On the fog-shrouded island of lost souls, in a noisy low tavern called The Dead Man, our hero Arnold Schnabel has once again encountered his old enemy the prince of darkness...
(Hie thee hence to read our immediately preceding episode; or, if you must, click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning 56-volume memoir.) “Now that the alleged holiday season is finally coming to an end I look forward to devoting myself to the slow and luxurious close-reading of the ten newest volumes of Arnold Schnabel’s mammoth masterpiece, which my grandchildren were kind enough to chip in and have specially bound for me in the finest morocco leather.” -- Harold Bloom, in Parade magazine.
“LSD?” said Lucky. “Are you insane? Or, rather, are you so insane already that you long to increase your insanity a hundredfold through the ingestion of LSD?”
“Pardon me?” I said.
“Rèmy Sidecar,” said the bartender’s voice. “I.W. Harper Manhattan.”
I turned, all the lights in the place turning and swirling with me, much as the lights of a carnival at night must swirl when one rides one of the painted mechanical horses on a carousel (not that I have ever ridden on one), and I saw the gentle explosions of colors in the two beaded cocktails the bartender was ambidextrously placing before Finch and Molly, neither of whom wasted any time in picking them up and lifting them to their opened lips.
“Now,” said the bartender, “anybody want anything else right now?”
“No,” said Lucky. “And just take whatever it is out of that money there.”
“Wait,” said Mr. Jones.
“What?” said Lucky.
Mr. Jones tilted his head back and finished off his Manhattan.
“Ah,” he said, “that was good.”
He laid the empty glass on the bar.
“Encore, garçon,” he said. “S’il vous plaît.”
The bartender glanced at Lucky.
“Go ahead,” said Lucky. “Get him another one.”
“Y’know,” said Finch, “as long as you’re making Mr. Jones one, I’ll probably have another.”
“You got a full one right there in your hand,” said the bartender.
“Yes, but I was just thinking, you know, it might save you time since you were going to make one for Mr. Jones anyway --”
“Unbelievable,” said the bartender.
“I’m only thinking of your convenience, Jack,” said Finch.
“Oh, go ahead, make him another one too,” said Lucky.
The bartender now stared at Lucky, then at the Manhattan that Lucky was holding, then at Lucky again.
“What’s the matter with your drink?”
“With my drink?” said Lucky. “Nothing, as far as I know. Why? Should I be worried?”
“How come you ain’t drinking it then?”
“I’ve been conversing,” said Lucky.
“If you order a drink you should drink it,” said the bartender. “Especially a Manhattan cocktail. I go to a lot of trouble to make the drink properly, plus I even go the extra mile to chill the glass, and you stand there jabbering and letting the drink get warm. What’s the point of me making the goddam drink correctly if you’re gonna let it get warm as piss, huh? Why should I bother?”
“What do you care?” said Lucky.
“I care,” said the bartender. “I care very deeply. Maybe I care too much. Maybe that’s my problem. Now drink your goddam drink. This is not some hoity toity cocktail party. You wanta drink here, then drink, goddammit.”
“Okay,” said Lucky. “Fine.”
He lifted his glass, drank the entire cocktail in one go. Then he made a face of the sort nearly anyone would make after drinking a Manhattan all at once, and he laid the empty glass down.
“There,” he said. “I drank it. Are you happy?”
“No,” said the bartender. “In point of fact I am not happy. I am however partially -- infinitesimally -- mollified. For the time being. You want another one?”
“Yes,” said Lucky. “Yes. Go make another one. Make another one for everyone.”
“Not me,” I said. “I should probably see about getting out of here after this one I have.”
“I said everyone,” said Lucky.
“Yeah, what the hell, Arnie,” said Mr. Jones. “I’m having another one, so you’d just have to wait for me.”
“Well,” I said. “It really might be better if I didn’t. I mean, I don’t mind waiting while you finish your drink. In fact, go ahead and have one --”
“I was intending to,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “go ahead, you have another one and I’ll, um --” I had almost said that I was going to go try to talk to Gabriel about getting us back to the world of the living, but then I thought that this might not be such a good thing to say out loud in front of Lucky. “I’ll just, uh --”
“Look,” said the bartender, “I got other customers. How many Manhattans am I making?”
“Four,” said Mr. Jones. “And a Sidecar for the lady.”
“Right,” said the bartender.
“With Rémy,” said Molly. “More Rémy this time. It’s still too weak.”
“Look, Molly,” said the bartender, “if you want a double Rémy Sidecar just ask for one, but I gotta charge extra for it.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” said Lucky. “Just give the woman what she wants and take it out of my money there.”
“You got no call to talk to me like that,” said the bartender.
“Okay,” said Lucky. “I’m sorry.” He took out his money clip again, peeled off a twenty. “Here,” he said, “this is for you. I’m tipping you ahead of time. Take it.”
The bartender took the twenty.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Now will you please make our drinks?” said Lucky.
“That’s all you had to say,” said the bartender, shoving the twenty into his trousers pocket. “’Please.’ That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“No,” said Lucky. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“Please and thank you,” said the bartender. “Two words we don’t hear enough of in this world.”
“I always say please and thank you,” said Finch.
“I guess I should say 'two phrases',” said the bartender. “'Expressions'?”
“'Locutions',” said Finch.
“Whatever,” said the bartender.
“I’m still waiting for my double Rémy Sidecar,” said Molly.
“See?” said Jack the bartender. He was addressing Lucky. “See the kinda clientèle I got in this joint?”
“I’m still waiting for my Manhattan, too,” said Mr. Jones.
“I’ll get you your goddam Manhattan, gramps,” said the bartender. “I’ll get everybody their goddam drinks. Just keep your fucking shirts on. Christ almighty.”
He went away.
“Mr. Personality,” said Mr. Jones.
“My God!” said Lucky. “How can you humans stand yourselves?”
“Watch it, pal,” said Mr. Jones. “Easy with the broad declarations.”
“Jesus Christ!” said Lucky. “What were we even talking about?”
“I have no idea,” said Mr. Jones.
“Who gives a shit,” said Molly.
“You were talking about Mr. Schroeder’s having taken a certain pill,” said Finch. “QED I think was the street name.”
“LSD!” said Lucky.
“Oh, was that it?” said Finch.
“Yes,” said Lucky. “This one,” he said, pointing at me. “High as a kite on LSD.”
“But,” I said, after perhaps too long a pause. It felt like a half hour, but it couldn’t have been that long; this crowd I was with would never have refrained from talking for that long. “But my leg was hurting terribly. Mr. Jones gave the pill to me for my leg. My leg, my leg, my leg.”
“Why do you keep repeating yourself?”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was doing that aloud. Sometimes I hear these sorts of echoes, echoes, echoes --”
“Damn it, man, didn’t you know what you were taking?”
“Well, it was for my leg. You see I have a bad leg, and I just fell a little while ago and hurt it all over again, so --”
“So you took LSD for a sore leg?”
I looked down at Mr. Jones, because I was still floating about six feet above his head, and above my own head, come to think of it, and everyone else’s in there.
“Mr. Jones,” I said. “Tell him. Tell him I took it for my sore leg.”
“Well, it was my idea, I’ll admit it,” said Mr. Jones. “You see, if I had had some opium then I should certainly have offered that to Arnold. But what can I say? LSD was all I was holding.”
“Mr. Jones,” said Lucky, “I’m really surprised at you. I mean I knew vaguely that you were a hopeless old drunk, but I had no idea of the depths of your degeneracy, or should I say perhaps your senility.”
“Watch it, pal,” said Mr. Jones. “I don’t stand for no fancy Dan in a white suit accusing me of degeneracy nor senility. My buddy had a bum leg, so I gave him the only pill I had, the last one I had. Who gives a shit if it’s LSD or the distilled essence of the ambrosia of the gods, the point is, it worked. Hey, Arnold, let me ask you something, does your leg hurt now?”
“I can’t even feel my leg,” I said. “Either one of my legs.”
“There ya go,” said Mr. Jones, addressing Lucky again now. “Smart-ass. What do you know about LSD? You ever even tried it?”
“Well, no,” said Lucky. He noticed that the cigarette in his holder had burned down and gone out. He picked out the butt and dropped it to the floor. “But I’ve read about it. I saw an article in Man’s Life I think it was, or --”
“I don’t give a shit what you read in some cheap sweat rag,” said Mr. Jones. “Until you’ve tried it maybe you should just keep your opinions to yourself. Ever hear of Cary Grant?”
Lucky took out his silver cigarette case.
“Cary Grant’s an acid head,” said Mr. Jones.
“It’s slang for people who dig LSD. It’s shorter than calling somebody a lysergic acid diethylamide-head, y’know?”
Lucky clicked open the case.
“Hey,” said Mr. Jones. “What kinda cigarettes you got there?”
“Mind if I take one for later? These Soviet-made smokes taste like shit.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.”
Mr. Jones took a cigarette from the case and stowed it in his shirt pocket. Lucky offered the case to Molly and she took two, even though she, like Mr. Jones and Finch, was already smoking a cigarette. I declined a cigarette, but Finch helped himself to two. Lucky looked in his case. There were two cigarettes left in it. He took one out, then snapped the case shut and put it away.
“Aldous Huxley,” said Mr. Jones.
“Pardon me?” said Lucky. He was screwing his cigarette into his holder.
“What about Aldous Huxley, ever hear of him?”
“Sure,” said Lucky. Ever the gentleman, Mr. Jones had taken out his Sid’s Tavern matches, and he gave Lucky a light. “Thank you,” said Lucky, and he exhaled a cloud of smoke in which I detected a distinct odor of sulfur. “I mean I don’t have much time for reading, really, but didn’t he write that book 1984?”
“No, that was George Orwell,” said Mr. Jones. “This was Aldous Huxley, the guy who wrote Brave New World --”
“That’s what I meant to say,” said Lucky.
“Well, he was an acid head too, Huxley,” said Mr. Jones. “Even did acid on his death bed.”
“Well, fuck it,” said Molly, “if that Cary Grant takes this stuff then it’s okay in my book. I seen that fella in that Mae West movie, what was it called?”
“And I haven’t read Aldous Huxley,” said Finch, “but I’ve heard that he’s a simply marvelous author. But you know who’s really my favorite among the younger authors? James Branch Cabell --”
“Since when did you ever read a book, Finchie?” said Molly.
“I read,” said Finch. “You may not see me reading, but I read. At home, in my room, in the dark watches of the night, when I am unable to sleep --”
“Hey, Pops,” said Molly, “You know where we can score some of this LSD?”
“I wish I did,” said Mr. Jones.
“Good stuff, huh?”
“I must admit I wouldn’t mind trying some,” said Finch.
“Me, I love it,” said Mr. Jones. “Take it every chance I get.”
“Oh, my, I really want to try some,” said Finch.
“Yeah, me too,” said Molly.
“It’s the best,” said Mr. Jones. “I used to think that peyote and mescaline were pretty good, but LSD? No contest.”
“Pretty good, huh?” said Finch.
“The best,” said Mr. Jones. “Right Arnie?”
“Um,” I said. But it came out like a long, drawn-out “om”, don’t ask me why.
“All right,” said Lucky. “Everybody. Let’s just shut up about LSD.”
“You’re the one who brought it up, pal,” said Mr. Jones.
“Yes, I suppose I did,” said Lucky. “And you know what? I’m sorry I did.”
“I find it a fascinating subject though,” said Finch. “Modern chemistry, that is. It’s so wonderful that a single pill could cause Mr. Schnabel’s leg to cease to hurt --”
“I said can we please not talk about it any more,” said Lucky. “Okay?”
“Sorry,” said Finch.
“I still say if that Cary Grant takes that stuff then it must be good,” said Molly.
“I don’t care,” said Lucky, enunciating each word distinctly and separately.
“Oh, well, pardon me for having an opinion,” said Molly.
“I don’t want to talk about LSD any more,” said Lucky.
“It’s a free country,” said Molly. “You don’t want to talk about it, don’t talk about it. Just don’t tell us what we gotta talk about.”
“I’m merely asking you all to please change the subject. And after all I am buying the drinks.”
“Oh, you’re gonna hold that over our heads, are you?” said Molly.
“I hate guys like you,” said Mr. Jones. “You wanta be a big spender, show off, buy everybody drinks, but you want everybody to kiss your ass for it. Well, let me tell you, pal. You can kiss my ass.”
“You don’t know who you’re talking to, old man.”
“And I don’t give a shit.”
“Tell him who he’s talking to, Arnold,” said Lucky.
“What?” I said.
“I said tell Mr. Jones who he’s talking to.”
“Excuse me,” said Finch, “something I always wondered, and I could be wrong, but shouldn’t it be ‘whom he’s talking to’?”
“What?” said Lucky.
“'Whom' as opposed to 'who',” said Finch.
“Shut the fuck up, you,” said Lucky.
“Oh, sorry,” said Finch.
“Ha ha ha,” said Molly.
“Actually I think it is 'whom',” said Mr. Jones.
“Here’s your drinks,” said the bartender. He was there with a cork-lined tray, with four Manhattans and a Sidecar on it. He laid each drink near its prospective drinker.
Somehow the Manhattan I had been drinking had become empty, so I picked up the fresh one that was closest to me, even though I had flown over to the bandstand. I hovered right next to Gabriel’s head as he blew into his trumpet’s mouthpiece. He was sweating profusely. His suit was shimmering sharkskin, and his hat was of the porkpie style, made of straw and narrow-brimmed, with a paisley-patterned band with a red and black feather in it.
“Arnold, brother,” he said, even though he was blowing on his trumpet, his cheeks distended. “What are you doin’ here, man?”
“It’s a long story,” I said. Or rather so my disincorporated spirit said, as my body still stood over there at the crowded bar, sipping my drink, and looking at Lucky, the prince of darkness.
(Continued here; it’s way too late to turn back now.)
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