Our hero Arnold Schnabel has once again found himself in a pickle: in a low dockside bar in Singapore, dosed with the world’s most powerful aphrodisiac (street name: the Pink Death Bomb), and with the clock ticking…
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“The way I look at the so-called ‘canon’, you have Shakespeare, then a whole bunch of other people who are pretty good, and then you have Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Joe Franklin Show.
(Continued here, because we owe Arnold that much at least.)
“Hadn’t you better hurry, Mr. Schtäpfelberg?” said this Mojo character.
I forget if it’s already been established that I was standing, but I was, awkwardly.
“Yes, I guess you’re right,” I said.
I could definitely feel a stirring down in my organ of procreation, not that I had ever used it for that purpose. If I tarried here too long I might not even be able to walk to the men’s room, at least not without bending forward like a person suffering from some terrible spinal disease. But then I remembered that I still didn’t know where the men’s room was. “Mr. Mojo --” I started to say.
“Mojo, mon ami,” said Mojo. “Mojo tout simplement, je vous en prie.”
“Okay -- Mojo,” I said, “can you direct me to the men’s room?”
“Well, it’s not exactly a room per se, mon cher Monsieur Schtüpfelweiss.”
“No, pas exactement.”
I was wondering why he was speaking so much French all of a sudden, but I didn’t have time to worry about that now.
“Well, whatever it is, could you tell me where it is?”
“The dooble-vay-say --”
“The what?” I said.
“The men’s room. W.C. as you Yanks call it.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. “W.C. Sure. So, uh, where is it?”
“Go that way,” he said, pointing with his enormous cigar to his right from where he sat on the bar top. “All the way around the bar here.”
“The bar you’re sitting on,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s confusing the way you Americans call the entire establishment a ‘bar’, as well as the counter to which people, comment ça vous dire, ‘stomach up’?”
“Belly up,” I said.
“Charming idiome, yes, 'belly up'. That the counter at which people belly up has the same appellation as the bar in which it exists -- very strange, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said, although I saw nothing strange about it.
“Somehow inefficient,” he said.
“Yeah, well, when I go around the end of the bar, or the counter let’s say,” I said, “do I just keep going, or what?”
“To get to the W.C.?” he said, saying it the French way again, but now I was getting used to it.
“Right, the W.C.,” I said, saying it the American way.
“The what?” he said.
I don’t know, maybe it was the loud chaotic jazz music that was still playing, maybe he was trying to torture me. But I practically yelled, breaking down and pronouncing it the French way, “Yes! The dooble-vay-say!”
“No need to shout old chap,” he said.
“Sorry,” I said, although I wasn’t. “Where do I go when I turn around the end of the bar.”
“Just go straight ahead.”
“Straight ahead,” I said.
“Tout droit. Couldn’t be easier to find.”
“Good,” I said.
“You’ll see a doorway, just go straight through it.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said. "See ya --"
“When you go through it, go across the yard.”
“The yard. That’s what you American call it, isn’t it? A sort of empty plot behind a building. Sometimes there might be a lawn, with grass, perhaps a garden, or a fountain.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said.
“In this case alas you will see no lawn, no garden, no fountain neither. Merely some ash bins, and perhaps a hardy weed or two. And a wall, a wall pocked with hundreds of holes, or perhaps indentations is the more accurate word. For it was against this wall that the Japanese were wont to line up young local Chinese fellows suspected of being less than enamored of the rule of the empire of the rising sun.”
“Okay,” I said. “So the men’s room is in the yard?”
“Okay, great,” I said.
“Not actually in the yard,” said Mojo.
“More like at the far side of the yard. Or perhaps you would call it a courtyard.”
“Okay,” I said. "The far side.”
“Yes,” said Mojo. “The far side. But, pas de souci, you can’t miss it. You will see in the not very far distance two bamboo ‘shacks’ I think you call them. One is marked “Pointers”, the other one “Setters”. Use the one marked --”
“I know,” I said. “Thanks.”
“De rien, Monsieur Schtüpfelstein.”
I had to go. I suddenly realized I was possessed of at least half an erection. I remembered I was wearing a hat. I took it off, a brown fedora, and held the inside part over the area below my belly.
“Now move swiftly, mon ami,” said Mojo. “Like the -- how do you say?”
“Like the wind?”
“Yes, like the wind. Hurry, before it is too late.”
“Okay,” I said, “see ya.”
“Soon I hope.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“I’ll order you a drink.”
“No thanks,” I said.
“Oh but no, I insist.”
“Okay,” I said. "Fine. I have to go now."
“Wait,” he said. “What would you like to drink?”
“Oh, I don't know, just a beer, thanks.”
“Not just a beer,” he said. “You insult me. Have a real drink. Perhaps a pousse-café, with a float of ‘151’?”
“Okay, fine,” I said.
“Unless you’d prefer one of cher Ben’s specials, a Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’.”
“Okay, fine,” I said, again.
“Planter’s Punch then?”
“With a float of ‘151’.”
“Sure, great,” I said.
“Excellent. Now you really better had get moving or else you’ll be able to carry that fedora of yours in front of you without using your hands, ha ha.”
“Right, I’m going,” I said, and finally I started to move, but the little man reached out and grabbed my arm.
“And when you return, Herr Schnübel, we will discuss this little problem of yours.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Perhaps we can, as you Americans say, ‘work something out’.”
“Well,” I said.
“Madame Chang,” he said. “She is your only hope.”
“Okay, I’d really better go now,” I said.
“Your rod is showing.”
He glanced at my middle section, but he wasn’t referring to my tumescence -- that was hidden by my fedora -- but to the butt of the Luger sticking out of my waistband under my open suit jacket. I had forgotten the gun was there. With my free hand, the one attached to the arm he wasn’t gripping with his own strong little hand, I buttoned one of the buttons of the jacket.
“Even in a place like this one must be careful packing a gat,” he said, “unless of course you have a license, which somehow I doubt.”
“Yeah, I doubt it too,” I said.
“Bump into the wrong undercover bull with no gelt on you to pay the pot-de-vin and you might well find yourself rotting in a dank cell in Changi Prison, waiting weeks if not months just for your hearing to come up.”
“Well, thanks for the tip,” I said, “but --”
“You know the way now, Monsieur Schnäzzelwürz?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think I know the way.”
“Bonne chance, mon ami.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“And when you return we will talk again about this caper I got in mind.”
I didn’t say anything. I was getting tired of repeating myself.
He made no sign of letting go of my arm so I reached over with my free hand and pried his tiny claw of a hand loose. He had quite a grip for such a tiny fellow. I started off again, but he called after me.
I looked back.
“Enjoy yourself!” he called out.
His face wore a beaming look of joy.
I turned, and forged ahead, keeping my hat in front of me, and walking far more slowly than I would have chosen to had it not been for the rabid weasel on the verge of bursting from my inguinal region and forcing me to hobble in the uncomfortably bowed posture I had feared I would have to utilize, making my way like a rude hunchback through the people who were crowding near the bar, and turning right as instructed when I got to the end of it. Sure enough, Mojo had not lied. There was an open door ahead, and I shuffled toward it and then through it and down a couple of wooden steps.
I was now in some sort of yard, or courtyard, again Mojo had told the truth. It was dark out here, the only illumination coming from the doorway I had just passed through, and from a few windows in the back of the building I had just left, and in three other buildings which hemmed in the yard. The sky above, but then where else would the sky be but above, the sky was as black as coal, but sprinkled with wet-looking blurry stars. From what I could see the yard seemed to be paved with trash and broken bottles and shards of glass glinting weakly in the gloom. To the right along the wall were the dark shapes of half a dozen or so large trash cans, none of which seemed to have lids, all of them overflowing with refuse. I saw the red eyes of two rats on top of the frozen volcano of garbage bulging out of the closest can. They stared at me contemptuously for a moment, and then went back to their meal. To the left at a right angle was the pale and windowless wall of what might be a warehouse or a morgue. It was too dark to tell from here, but I supposed that this must be the firing-squad wall to which Mojo had averred, unless of course he had been lying. The air smelled of urine and of feces, of dead fish and garbage, and just very slightly of the sea, but not the clean crisp ocean smell of Cape May, this was a reeking, warm, thick smell, as if it came from a sea filled with the floating carcasses of creatures who had died in despair.
It had been extremely hot in that bar, my clothes were as wet as if I had been dipped bodily into a pool of hot sweat, but it felt even hotter and more humid out here in the air.
Then, suddenly, over the noise of the music and the shouting of the people back in the bar I heard another sort of sound, a harsh deep barking sound mingled with a high-pitched shrieking echoing throughout the courtyard. It sounded as if a rhinoceros and a tiger were locked in mortal combat. At first I couldn’t tell where this awful noise was coming from as it bounced around the walls of the yard, but then I realized it was coming from above me.
I stood there, terrified. Perhaps I had wandered into a supernatural horror novel and what I was hearing were demons from hell, descending upon me. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.
But then, amidst the horrible wordless barking and shrieking, I heard clearly the all-too-human words, in a panting female shout:
“Oh, yeah, give it to me, big boy!”
And then, in a deep man’s voice:
“You got it, baby!”
I knew those voices.
It was Ben, and that woman, Maxine Parraquette. Unlike me, they hadn’t wasted any time.
The wordless barking and shrieking resumed.
Well, at least some people were having a good time.
I could now just barely begin to make out two dark oblong lumps across the yard. These must be the shacks, or, as we Americans call them, the out-houses. I adjusted the Luger in my waistband and hobbled towards them, the soles of my shoes crunching in the broken glass and the rubble underfoot.
I came at last to the shack on the left. Sure enough there was a sign on the crooked bamboo-slat door, with the hand-painted word, barely legible in the darkness, “Pointers”.
There was no handle or door knob on the door. I gave it a push, and it opened. Inside was a deeper darkness, and a much, much deeper stench, the likes of which I hadn’t smelled since my army days, when I and my fellow engineers occasionally had to dig out putrefying corpses from bombed buildings. Holding my breath, I held the door open with one hand and looked for a light switch. After almost a minute I discovered -- and only because I was waving my hand about -- a thin chain hanging from the low ceiling. I pulled the chain and a naked overhead lightbulb came on, producing a very dim light, it must have been a five-watt bulb, if they even make five-watt bulbs. My heart sank when I realized the toilet was nothing more than a small hole in the cracked and slimy-looking concrete flooring. To the right was a rust-stained sink with a leaking tap. There was no soap in evidence, and no mirror, but there was a sign above the sink, hand-painted on a piece of moldy-looking plywood: “Employees must wash hands before returning to work.”
Leaving the door ajar, and holding my breath, I stepped over to the hole.
Behind me, reverberating in the thick air of the courtyard, I could still hear the shouting and screaming of Ben and Maxine, in the throes of what was either ecstasy or an excruciatingly painful death. I was still holding my fedora over my middle parts, and now at last I lifted it up and put it back on my head.
I continued to hold my breath. I had the feeling this was either going to be very easy (thanks to the Pink Death Bomb) or (thanks to everything else) very, very hard.
(Continued here, because we owe Arnold that much at least.)
(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a strictly up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon from Ace Books: The Last Time I Saw Arnie: Memories of Arnold Schnabel, by Horace P. Sternwall, available at better drug stores and bus stations nationwide.)