Saturday, May 26, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 302: Maxine

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Big” Ben Blagwell, in a certain seedy bar in the exotic port of Singapore…

(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; the strong of heart may go here to return to the very first chapter of the very first volume of this Gold View Award©-winning 67-volume epic.)

“Just when you think Arnold Schnabel is going to settle down and for a change have a halfway normal adventure he once again takes us beyond the pale, into waters uncharted and to lands unknown.” -- Harold Bloom, on Live! with Kelly.


“So, Ben,” said Arnie. “You wouldn’t, um, have any ideas, would you?”

“What?” I said.

“Ideas,” he said.

“About what?”

I was still staring through the smoke at the canary, Maxine Parraquette, up there on the little stage singing her sad song.

Maybe I should describe her a little.

Okay, I’m not much with words, I’m more of a man of action if you get my drift, but she was blond, and her hair looked like silk. No, wait a minute, not silk, that’s not right --

“Ben,” said Arnie.

“Yeah, pal,” I said.

No, her hair wasn’t like silk. It was like hair. But it was, I don’t know, really pretty hair, soft-looking, like she didn’t spray it every morning with half a can of Aqua Net like most babes you meet nowadays do --

“Look, Ben,” said Arnie, “if you want we can talk after the lady finishes singing.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay, Arnie,” I said. I picked up my Planter’s and sucked on the straw, finishing it off except for a dead fly that got stuck in the other end of the straw. “You want another drink, pal?” I said.

“I still have a full beer,” he said, and it was true, he’d hardly sipped his Tiger Beer.

“Well, I think I’ll have another one,” I said. “Hey! Benny!” I yelled down the bar at the little Flip, and I shoved my empty glass toward his side of the bar. “Otra vez, por favor!” I turned to Arnie. “That’s Spic for ‘one more, champ’. You speak Spic, Arnie?”

“No,” he said.

“I speak pretty good Spic,” I said. “I ever tell ya about my time running guns and ammo to the rebels in Cuba?”

“No,” said Arnie.

“Imagine my surprise when I finally figure out they were just a bunch of Commies.”

“Commies?”

“A bunch of goddam reds, every last one of them.”

“That must have been very --”

“Disconcerting?” I said.

“Uh, yeah,” he said.

“It was,” I said, “but ya know what? I got over it. And ya know why? All because of a fiery raven-haired rebel babe name of Maria.”

Arnie gave out with a great sigh at this point.

“You’re sighing,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Sorry.”

He stared at the label of his Tiger Beer bottle. Sweat was streaming down his face. But then sweat was streaming down everybody’s face in that joint, including my own mug.

“You okay, pal?” I asked.

He looked at me, opened his mouth as if he were about to say something, and then just went back to staring at his beer bottle.

I took a drag of my Caporal and let it out slow. I hate talking about personal s**t. That’s just me. But sometimes a man’s got to do it.

“I think I know what’s eating you, Arnie,” I said.

“You do?”

He turned his eyes from the beer bottle to mine.

“Yes,” I said. “I think what’s eating you from the inside out, like one of them tropical intestinal worms -- you ever hear of them?”

“Yes,” he said. “I think I’ve heard of them.”

“What’s eating you up from the inside out is that you’ve got a Maria in your past too.”

“What?”

“A babe, a fiery babe, a babe full of burning passion.”

“Well, uh --”

“I’ll bet it’s that dame of yours back in Cape Cod.”

“Cape May,” he said.

“Cape May,” I said. “It’s that babe. The babe you left behind. That’s why you sighed just now.”

Arnie looked at me for about thirty seconds without saying anything.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s say I sighed because of the babe I left behind in Cape May.”

“Wait,” I said. “Her name was Maria too, wasn’t it?”

“No,” he said.

“No,” I said. “But it was something like that. Three syllables, right?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Ending with an ‘a’?”

“That’s right, Ben.”

“Don’t tell me.”

“Okay.”

“Jakarta,” I said.

“What?” said Arnie.

“Ankara?”

“No.”

“Ragusa?”

“What?”

“Sumatra,” I said.

“No,” he said, and suddenly he seemed very sad and weary, I mean he was already looking sad, but now he seemed tired, too.

“Here your drink, Mista Blogwell,” said Benny the barman, and he shoved a fresh Planter’s-with-a-float at me.

“What the hell took you so long?” I said. “I’m dying of thirst over here.”

“You not the only mothaf***a in the joint, Mista Blackwell. Buck-sevenny-five.”

“A buck-seventy-five?”

“Buck-sevenny-five,” said Benny.

“Okay,” I said. “Keep your shirt on.”

I heaved my great bulk up a little on one side from the barstool in order to drag my wallet out, but once again Arnie beat me to it. He took a couple of George Washingtons out of his wallet and handed them to Benny.

“Keep the change,” he said.

“Thanks, big spenda,” said Benny, and he went away to stick a dead fly in some other poor slob’s drink.

I lifted up my cocktail, took out the pretty paper umbrella and the cherry-and-lime slice and tossed them down to the spit gutter, shoved the drink’s straw in my yap and drained the Planter’s halfway down.

“Ah,” I said, putting down the glass. “Finally. Finally I’m starting to get half a load on. Finally.”

Arnie just looked at me, then he lifted his Tiger Beer, and this time he took a good old quaff from it, gulping it down until it was almost three-quarters gone.

“There ya go, Arnie,” I said. “That’s the way you drink a beer.”

I stubbed out my Sweet Caporal. When they get down to the last half-inch, I stub them out, that’s just me.

“So,” I said. “This girl of yours back in Cape Girardeau. Natasha was her name?”

“Ben,” said Arnie, and he put his hand on my big arm. Well, I mean to say I have two big arms, but he put his hand on just one of them, my right one, which was the one closest to him. He put his hand on my biceps, right where I have a tattoo of a babe in a hula skirt, so when I flex my muscle it looks like -- “Ben, I’m going to ask you to concentrate.”

“Sure pal,” I said. “What do you want me to concentrate on?”

“I’ve been transported somehow into this fictional world,” he said, “from another fictional world which was part of yet another fictional world. All I want to do is somehow get back to my own world.”

“You can let go of my arm now, Arnie. You got my attention now.”

“Oh, okay, sorry,” he said, removing his hand.

I picked up my pack of Sweet Caporals from the bar top.

“Sure you don’t want a smoke, Arnie?”

“No thanks, Ben. I just want to get back to my own world. I’m not sure if you can even help me, but the fact is that you’re the only person I know here.”

“In Singapore?” I said, sticking one of those pleasure-tubes between my lips.

“No,” said Arnie. “I mean in this world. This universe.”

“This universe,” I said, looking on the bar top for my matches.

“Yes,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I stuck my hand in my dungarees pocket, looking for the matches. “And if I understand correctly you want to return to this ‘other’ world.”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s exactly it.”

I tried my other front dungarees pocket. No matches.

“And this ‘other world’,” I said, “this other ‘universe’ -- is a ‘fictional’ world of some sort?”

“No,” said Arnie, “it’s the real world. This is a fictional world, the world we’re in now.”

“This world,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “This world is the world of some paperback novel called Say It With a .38.

“Okay,” I said. “I can buy that. By the way, where’s that book of matches you just gave me?”

“They’re in your shirt pocket, Ben.”

“Oh,” I said.

I patted my shirt pocket. It definitely felt like a book of matches in there.

But before I could stick my claws in and fish the matches out a slender hand attached to a slender arm clicked a thin silver lighter in front of my face, a flame came out of it, and I took the light.

The hand holding the lighter was attached to the arm that belonged to none other than the blond canary, Maxine Parraquette.

“Thanks, sister,” I said.

“I am not your sister,” she said. She had a funny accent, kind of French, but kind of Kraut-like, too. Maybe Polack?

“And, brother,” I said, “I am glad that you are not my sister.”

Don’t ask me why, but I was starting to talk in a weird accent, too. Maybe it was because I had already had five or six Planter’s Punches with floats of "151" before running into Arnie that night.

“I saw you looking at me while I was singing,” she said.

Did I mention the dress she was wearing? Well, remember back when I was saying her hair looked like silk, except it didn’t really look like silk, more like hair? Well, her dress really did look like silk. It was a silvery kind of color, and it kind of made the broad look like she had been dipped in moonlight, and her skin was almost the same color, even in the crappy smoky light in this joint, her skin looked like moonlight on water, moonlight on the water when you’re way out at sea on a dead calm night, and around her neck she had a string of pearls, pearls like little drops of, I don’t know, they were pearls...

“My face is up here,” she said.

“Sorry, I said. “But you’re a lot to look at, babe.”

“May I have one of them Sweet Caporals?”

“You most certainly may,” I said. I picked up the pack of Caporals again, gave it a shake, she plucked one out. Her fingernails were long, and painted blood-red. She stuck the cigarette in her lips, which were the same blood-red color as her fingernails. She still had the lighter in her hand, but I’m the type of guy would rather drop dead than let a dame light her own cigarette, so I pried the lighter out of her delicate little mitt, clicked it, and gave her a light with it.

After exhaling a good lungful she said, “What’s the matter with your pal? He don’t look happy.”

“Arnie?” I said. “Arnie’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”

“You know what they say about nice guys,” she said.

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

“They finish last,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that,” I said. “Heh heh --”

I started to put the lighter into my shirt pocket, absent-mindedly, you know, but this dame Maxine reached right out and grabbed it back.

“And you know what happens to guys who finish last?” she said. “They wind up in the flophouse. They wind up in the gutter.”

She took another good drag of her Sweet Caporal, and then slowly let the smoke out, joining all the rest of the smoke that took up more space than air in that joint.

“They wind up in the jailhouse,” she said.

She turned and looked at Arnie.

“They wind up in the nut house,” she said, and I could see Arnie flinch a bit as she said that, staring into his face as she said it.

She turned her gaze away from Arnie and looked up and down the bar.

“Nice guys,” she said. “Sometimes they wind up in joints like this.”

“Um,” I said.


“Maxine’s my name,” she said.

“Blagwell’s my moniker,” said I. “Ben Blagwell, but everybody calls me Big Ben, on account of --”

“I can see why they call you Big Ben,” she said. “It could be worse. At least they don’t call you King Kong.” She turned to Arnie. “And what’s your handle, Mr. Gloom-and-Doom?”

“That’s Arnie,” I said. “Arnie, this is Maxine.”

“Hiya, Arnie,” she said.

“Hello,” he said.

I hadn’t really taken notice of it before, but she was carrying a purse, it was silver-colored, like her dress, except it had millions of little rhinestones all over it. Or at least I assume they were rhinestones. Anyway, she laid the purse on the bar top. It shimmered and sparkled.

Funny how dames like sparkly things.


(Continued here, and so on, until the men in the white coats come, and maybe even after that.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what is on some days an up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Sweet Caporal Cigarettes™: “Hey, nobody lives forever -- have a Caporal!”)

2 comments:

Kathleen Maher said...

Too bad Ben's so distracted; he was so helpful back Mr. Arbuthnot's.

Dan Leo said...

This is the big problem when you wander into someone else's novel. All of a sudden you're not the protagonist any more...