After many strange and perilous adventures in the next world our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel, with that aged reprobate Mr. Jones in tow, has finally managed to return to the previous world…
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“What indescribable joy it is to crack open up a brand-new volume of Arnold Schnabel’s monumental chef-d'œuvre.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Wall Street Journal.
“Hey, can I ask a question,” said Mr. Jones.
“Please do,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He was smoking his little meerschaum pipe.
“What’s up with the talking flies and cats in this joint?”
“The fly is Arnie’s friend, Ferdinand,” said Ben. He was smoking a cigarette. “Say hi, Ferdinand.”
“What’s up, old-timer,” said Ferdinand, who was hovering about six feet above where I lay on the floor, I suppose keeping out of reach of the cat, who was sitting on my chest.
“And you know me, Mr. Jones,” said Shnooby, looking over his shoulder.
“Yes, indeed I do,” said Mr. Jones. “But I never knew you to talk before.”
“He ate some special stuff,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “You know what kind of stuff.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Jones. “He ate some stuff. Well, that explains it.”
“I ate some special stuff one time,” said Ben, “at a little combination cat house-and-gambling parlour called Mama Wang’s, down in Port Moresby, New Guinea -- whew! Oh, my name’s Ben Blagwell by the way, pops. But they call me Big Ben Blagwell. You can call me Big Ben.”
Ben extended his great hand above my prostrate body, and Mr. Jones gave him his small old hand.
“Jones is my name, big fella,” said Mr. Jones, “and you can call me any damn thing you want. You got a coffin nail to spare?”
“Sure do, old buddy.”
Ben stepped over me, taking his Sweet Caporals from his shirt pocket and giving the pack a shake.
Mr. Jones picked one out and put it between his withered old lips and Ben held the lit end of his own cigarette to Mr. Jones’s for a light.
“Thanks,” said Mr. Jones, and he exhaled smoke with a look of satisfaction. “You a friend of Arnie’s?”
“Yeah, we go way back,” said Ben, “at least an hour. Seems longer somehow though.”
“I’ve only known the lad since last night,” said Mr. Jones. “And it seems like a lifetime already.”
“That’s just the way Arnie rolls,” said Ferdinand.
“Never a dull moment for friend Arnold,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“Hey, Arnold,” said Shnooby the cat, who was still standing on my chest. “What about my seafood?”
I tried to get up at this point, but instead all I did was say something that was unintelligible, even to me.
“Hey, he said something,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“What’d he say?” said Mr. Jones.
“Beats me,” said Ben. He bent down toward me. “Arnie, say something, buddy.”
“Hello,” I said.
“There ya go,” said the cat, and he licked my nose. “He’s all right. Come on, get up, you lazy bastard. Nothing wrong with you.”
“What do you know?” said Ben. “You’re a talking cat.”
“At least I’m not a talking fly,” said Shnooby.
“Watch the the species-centric aspersions, puss,” said Ferdinand. “I wasn’t always a fly. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a fly, mind you.”
“Flies are disgusting,” said Shnooby. “You eat shit.”
“Yeah, so?” said Ferdinand. “So cats eat flies who eat shit. So that makes you pretty damn disgusting yourself.”
“Okay,” Mr. Arbuthnot said, “both of you, leave us not squabble, for life is both fragile and short.”
“For a fly it’s short,” said Shnooby. “But maybe not short enough.”
“Keep it up, Felix,” said Ferdinand. “I’ll poop in your cat food when you’re not looking.”
“Just try it, pal…”
“Gentlemen, please,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“Yeah, cool it,” said Ben. “Hey, Arnie, do you think you can get up now?”
“Possibly,” I said.
“Help him up, Ben,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“Sure,” said Ben.
He put his cigarette in his mouth, came over behind the top of my head, reached down and grabbed me under the armpits, and with a grunt he heaved me up to my feet, Shnooby jumping off of me as he did so.
Once I was standing Ben kept one hand on my upper arm, in case I were to keel over again.
“How ya feel, partner?” said Mr. Jones.
“Okay, I guess,” I said.
Ben released his hand from my arm and gave me a clap on the shoulder, which almost did knock me over.
“Yeah, Arnie’s fine,” said Ben. “You said you’d bring this old gent back from the dead and you did.”
“Well, I said I’d try,” I said.
I felt sweaty, but at least I wasn’t soaked after my plunge into the river of Death.
“He tried and he succeeded,” said Mr. Jones. “I don’t care what anybody says about you, Arnie boy, you’re all right in my book. Hey, by the way, where’s my fedora?”
He was looking around on the floor.
“I think you left it in the next world,” I said. “When we were being chased by the damned.”
“Oh, right, now I remember. Oh, well, small price to pay, I suppose.”
“Wait,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He was pointing at my left hand. “Where’s my ring?”
“Oh,” I said. “The ring.”
I touched the pink circle on my little finger where the ring had been.
“Yeah, my ring,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “My ancient priceless magic ring.”
“Well,” I said.
“He gave it to a little dead boy,” said Mr. Jones.
“He gave it to a dead boy?”
“Yeah, little Chinee kid. Couldn’t be helped, Arbuthnot. The little bastard had us over a barrel. We were being pursued by the legions of the damned, and we needed the kid’s help. He wanted the ring. Whaddaya gonna do?”
“Well, that’s just swell, isn’t it,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Now I’m well and truly fucked. I really wanted that stuff, too.”
“What’s the ring got to do with the stuff?”
“Arnold was supposed to take it down to Wally’s cigar shop and try to barter it for some stuff for me. Of course he probably had drained most if not all of its power in rescuing you, but Wally wouldn’t have to know that. Damn the bad luck!”
“Well, that sucks for you,” said Mr. Jones. “But, look, I’m back, Arnie and I are both back from the land of the dead, that’s something, ain’t it?”
“Yeah, terrific,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
I looked across the room to the windows that looked out over Washington Street. The rain appeared to have stopped, although the sky was still grey.
“So,” said Mr. Jones. “How about a cocktail to celebrate our return?”
“Yes, why not,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He paused. “But I really wanted that stuff.”
“Will you please shut up about the stuff,” said Shnooby. “You’re like a broken record with that shit.”
“Easy for you to say when you ate a whole snuff-tin of it,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “But if I don’t get some soon I’m going to grow old and die just like any mortal.”
“Going to grow old?” said Mr. Jones.
“You know what I mean,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Older. And then death.”
“The afterworld ain’t all that bad,” said Mr. Jones.
“You say that, and yet you came back.”
“I didn’t say it was great. I said it weren’t that bad. Now how about them drinks?”
“Oh, yes, of course. I suppose I am being a dreadful host. Shall I make a pitcher of Manhattans?”
“Please do,” said Mr. Jones.
“I could go for a Manhattan,” said Ben. “How about you, Arnold?”
“Uh,” I said.
“Wait a second,” said Shnooby.
“Yes?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
Shnooby jumped up onto the coffee table and turned so that he could look at all of us.
“What about my fresh seafood?” he said.
“I’ll get you the seafood,” I said. “I’m sorry. I was on the way to the docks with Ben and Ferdinand here, but then the streets got flooded and --”
“I don’t want to hear excuses,” said the cat, firmly. “What I want is for you to do what you said you were going to do.”
“Well, um --”
“You guys are sitting around, traveling to the next world and back, smoking your pipes and your cigarettes, drinking your Manhattans. But what am I? Chopped liver?”
“Hey, be cool, kitty,” said Ben. “Soon as we have a drink we’ll go get your cat food.”
“Fresh seafood, not cat food,” said Shnooby. “I don’t want that canned shit. I want what this guy said he’d get me, what was it?”
“I think you decided on bluefish and scallops,” I said.
“Bluefish and scallops,” said the cat. “Good. Now how about getting me some?”
“We’ll get you your bluefish and scallops,” said Ben.
“When?” said the cat. “After I starve to death?”
“As soon as we have a drink.”
“Okay,” said Shnooby. “But only because whatsisname here --” he nodded in my direction -- “just traveled to the next world and back. But only one drink.” He glanced over at the grandfather clock across the room. “It’s two-thirty. I’ll give you guys five minutes to drink your drinks.”
“Or you’ll what?” said Ben. “Scratch our eyes out?”
“Five minutes,” said Shnooby. “The clock is fucking ticking.”
“Jesus, we just got here,” said Ben.
“Tick,” said the cat. “Tock.”
“Well, I suppose I had better make the drinks then,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“Yeah, I think you better,” said Shnooby. “I’m gonna curl up on the couch and take a five-minute nap. When I wake up I want you guys out of here.”
“Enjoy your nap,” said Ben. “You want us to wake you up?”
“Don’t worry about me, big guy. I’ll wake up.”
And with that he turned and jumped onto the sofa, causing the cushion to sink a foot or so. He curled up and appeared to go instantly to sleep.
“So,” said Mr. Jones. “About those drinks.”
“Yes, of course,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Manhattans all around then?”
“I could go for a Manhattan,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around merrily in the upper regions of the space that separated the human beings present. “Just a small one for me, pal.”
(Continued here, with no end in sight.)
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