Saturday, June 9, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 304: Raffles


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Big Ben Blagwell in a certain low bar by the Singapore docks, where they have been joined by a man called Mojo the Midget…

(Kindly go here to read our previous thrilling chapter; those who are not afraid to take one step beyond may click here to return to the misty beginnings of this Gold View Award©-winning 52-volume epic.)

“Somehow Arnold Schnabel’s memoirs, even when told by his friend Big Ben Blagwell, retain a shall we say unified tone of voice.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Rachael Ray Show.


“Thanks, for the lift, big fellow,” said Mojo, wriggling into a comfortable sideways position on my lap, so that he was facing toward Arnold. “What’s your gloomy pal’s name?”

“This is Arnie,” I said. “Arnie, this is Mojo, Mojo the Midget they call him. Mojo, meet Arnie, Arnie Schnabel, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”

Mojo extended his pudgy little hand, and Arnold took it.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Schnaffel,” said Mojo.

Maybe I should describe Mojo a bit more before I go on. Isn’t that what real writers do? Well, here goes. Like I said, he was small, four feet tops, and that was with the high-heeled little black patent-leather half-boots he always wore. He liked cigars, and he was smoking one now, probably a Cuban, one of those really big long fat ones, the damn thing was so big it seemed like Mojo wouldn’t even be able to lift it, but he was a strong little guy, and come to think of it, maybe he stayed strong from the constant lifting of those enormous stogies all day long. He wore a white tropical suit this evening, probably some little kid’s first communion suit. What else? A white straw fedora with a peacock feather in it, a pale pink shirt, a white silk tie, okay, I know, I don’t know for sure if the tie was silk, what do I look like, some pansy who works behind the tie counter at Macy’s? But sue me if I’m just trying to write like one of those real writer fellows write in the paperback novels and the men’s adventure magazines, like that Horace P. Sternwall guy, the one who wrote Bound East for Bombay and Assignment in Tonga? Where was I? Oh, right, let’s see, he had a pink carnation in his buttonhole, and a display handkerchief that matched his tie, and let’s say it was silk. He claimed to be part Chinese, part French, part Negro, and part Cherokee, but who the hell knew what he really was. I’d known him for at least ten years, ever since he and I and some other fellows relieved some female river pirates of a load of stolen uranium...

“Why the long puss, Mr. Schnapfel?” he said, after Arnold had finally pulled his hand away.

“Arnie’s got problems,” I said. “Serious problems.”

“Don’t we all?” said Mojo. “What are those shots you have there.”

“’151’,” I said.

“A most excellent aperitif. But I hope you haven’t forsaken your traditional Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’, Benjamin?”

“Got one on the way even as we speak, Mojo.”

“You’ll never change, Ben my boy.”

“Not as long as I got a hole in my ass, pal. You know me, Mojo, I’ll be drinking those damn things on my deathbed.”

“They will probably put you on your deathbed, mon cher.”

“Only if the Sweet Caporals don’t put me there first, little buddy.”

Just then, speaking of Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’, Benny showed up there in front of us and laid another one of those pleasure-bombs down along with a fresh bottle of Tiger Beer for Arnie.

“Three dolla,” he said.

“Allow me,” said Mojo, and he reached into his his Communion-jacket inside pocket and pulled out a fat wad of green in a gold money-clip, “and also please Benny, pour moi, a pousse-café, with a float of --”

“I know, I know, float of ‘151’,” said Benny.

“Thank you, Benny. Also a shot of ‘151’ on the side for me as well. By the way I hope you can break what our American friends call a ‘C-note’.”

“It good?”

“Of course it’s good, there you are my good chap.”

And the little fellow peeled off one of my namesakes from his roll like it was nothing and proffered it to Benny. His arm is pretty short, and Benny’s no Bill Russell in the heighth department himself, so Benny practically had to clamber up onto the bar top to snatch it. After he climbed back down to his side of the bar he held the bill up in one hand, pulled out his Zippo, clicked it lit, and held the flame a couple of inches on the other side of the C-note while he studied it like it held the secret of life, and death, too, maybe. And maybe it did.

“I assure you it is what the Yanks call ‘the McCoy',” said Mojo.

“I be the judge of that,” said Benny, turning the bill over.

“Good as gold,” said Mojo, and he casually shoved his wad back into his jacket, then patted the outside of the pocket in an affectionate kind of way.

“Okay,” said Benny, clicking shut his lighter, “it good enough I guess.”

“May I have my collation now?” said Mojo. “And I’d like some change from that bill, while you’re at it.”

“Don’t worry, I give you goddam change,” said Benny, and off he went again, but not before rubbing the bill vigorously with thumb and fingers, and then examining his fingertips.

“So hard to find good help these days,” said Mojo, and he tapped the ash from his enormous cigar down to the gutter that ran along the base of the bar. “As if I would try to pass a fugazi note in my own local pub. I do have some standards and one of the most ironclad is not to, in your parlance, Ben, defecate where I eat.”

“That’s always been my motto, Mojo,” I said. “Now what’s this proposition you got for me. You got some tinpot warlord you want me to heist a load of gold from? Or maybe some rich rubber baron’s nubile daughter’s been kidnapped by some Commie rebels and you want me to get her back and you don’t care how?”

“Before I answer that question, mon cher Benjamin, I must ask you if I may speak freely in front of our friend Mr. Schoendienst.”

“Who?” I said.

“Your saturnine camarade.”

“My what?”

“He means me,” said Arnie, and he picked up his bottle of beer and started gulping.

“Oh -- Arnie,” I said. “Sure you can talk in front of Arnie. You don’t even know the kind of capers me and Arnie’ve been on. Right, Arnie?”

Arnie put down his beer bottle, of which he had just downed two-thirds. It was good to see he was relaxing a bit finally and starting to get that poker out of his ass if you know what I mean.

“Ain’t that right, Arnie,” I said again, because he hadn’t seemed to hear me the first time.

“What?” he said.

“I said ain’t we had some wild adventures, you and me?”

“Yeah, sure, Ben,” he said.

“You know what kind of adventures me and Arnie been on?” I said to Mojo.

“I’m afraid you have me at a loss, Benjamin,” said Mojo.

“The spine-tingling kind,” I said. “Searing. Blood-curdling. What else? Help me out, Arnie, you’re good with words.”

“Interesting?” he said, and he picked up his beer bottle again.

“Interesting,” I said, “but better than that. Come on, Arnie.”

He took another gulp of beer, but just one this time, then sighed (I know) again.

“Riveting,” he said.

“Riveting,” I said. “Riveting adventures, Mojo. So let’s hear the pitch, because both me and Arnie are just a little light in the wallet at the moment, and if there’s some good money to be made then maybe we’ll be interested.”

“Ah,” said Mojo, “so Mr. Schnauzer is a gentleman of fortune as well?”

“You mean Arnie, right?” I said.

“Yes, of course.”

“His name isn’t Schnauzer, Mojo,” I said. “It’s Schna-, Schna-, um --”

“Schnabel,” said Arnie.

“Schnabel,” I said.

“I beg your pardon, Monsieur Schnavell,” said Mojo.

“That’s okay,” said Arnie, although somehow the poor kind didn't look okay, if you know what I mean.

“I can tell by the look of you that you are -- as your countrymen say -- a ‘tough customer’. And if my good friend Benjamin vouches for you then that is good enough for me. Ah, at long last! My pousse-café!”

“And you change,” said Benny, sliding a big tall glass with layers of white and green and red and chocolate and God knows what else toward Mojo with one hand and throwing some greenbacks on the counter with the other.

“I hope you’re not forgetting my shot of ‘151’, cher Benny,” said Mojo.

“I no forget,” said Benny. “Keep you shirt on.”

True to his word he laid a rocks glass on the bar, pulled out the ‘151’, poured out a shot, shoved it in Mojo’s direction, and then went away, probably to examine Mojo’s C-note one more time.

“Gentlemen,” said Mojo, lifting up his shot. “Let us drink to a mutually profitable enterprise. I cannot say the adventure I propose is not without danger, no, in fact I should say that if you accept this mission your chances of success, let alone your chances of escaping alive, are at least a hundred-to-one. However, should you succeed, then I can promise you a pay-off of --”

“Hold it,” said Arnie. “Look, Mr. Mojo --”

“Just Mojo,” said Mojo. “Tout court. Mojo. We are all friends here. And may I call you Albrecht?”

“My name is Arnold,” said Arnie. “Arnold Schnabel. But, yes, you can call me Arnold.”

“How about ‘Arnie’?”

“Arnie’s okay, too,” said Arnie.

“Good,” said Mojo. (He’s still holding up his shot of ‘151’ through all this, and suddenly I realized I had been letting my latest Planter’s sit there getting all diluted, so I reached over, grabbed it, removed the umbrella, dropped it fluttering down to the foot gutter, and took a good long slurp on the straw.) “Then I shall call you Arnie. Now what were you going to say?”

Arnie paused a moment. The band was blowing sweet and raucous and loud, the licorice-stick man laying it down like Pee Wee Russell on bennies. In fact the band had been blowing sweet and loud all through everything I’ve just been describing here, going back to when that canary Maxine Parraquette had come over to us. And I wondered what was taking her so long in the ladies’ head. Why did women need fifteen minutes just to take a pee?

“Okay,” said Arnie at last, “here’s the thing. I’m not going off on any dangerous adventure.”

“Aw, Arnie,” I started to say --

“No, Ben, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not the type to seek out dangerous adventures. If anything my goal in life is to avoid dangerous adventures.”

“Gee,” I said. “It sounds to me though like you ain’t so good at it, Arnie. Avoiding the dangerous adventures I mean.”

“No,” he said. “Lately I haven’t been too good at it.”

“If I may interpose, Ernie,” said Mojo, “is not life itself a dangerous adventure?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Arnie.

“An adventure which invariably ends in the tragic death of the hero,” said Mojo.

“Jesus Christ, Mojo,” I said. “Do ya have to be so morbid? It’s bad luck to talk about croaking. Especially right before a caper, I mean an adventure.”

“No, of course not, you’re perfectly right, cher Benjamin, why should we speak of our inevitable doom when here and now we are in such convivial company and about to drink a toast to a caper, or, ha ha, une aventure, that with good luck will have the three of us living high off the hog at the Raffles, sitting by the pool sipping fine champagne --”

“I’ll stick to my Planter’s with a float,” I said.

“Of course, cher Ben, of course,” said Mojo, “and have you ever tasted the Planter’s Punch they serve at the Raffles bar?”

“Well, no,” I said, “I mean I’ve passed by the Raffles a lot of times, sure, but --”

“Only the finest, freshest ingredients, cher Ben.”

“And they’ll serve it with a float?” I said. “Of ‘151’.”

“Indeed they will. And the rooms at the Raffles, Ben, the rooms!”

“Nice, huh?”

“Egyptian cotton sheets of the finest quality.”

“Egyptian, huh? Is that the good kind?”

“The absolute best,” said Mojo. “I tell you, just among us three chaps, you haven’t really ‘banged' a broad until you have ‘banged’ a broad on the crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets in the spacious and luxurious rooms of the Raffles Hotel.”

“They got air-conditioning there?” I asked.

“The finest,” said Mojo. “You’d think you were in a chalet in Switzerland in the crisp cold dead of winter.”

“Wow,” I said. (I mentioned it was hot in this joint we were in, right? Hot. Hot like the engine room of a pre-war collier at high noon in mid-August in the Java Sea. Hot.) “So, hey,” I says, “let’s drink to this new caper and then you can fill me and Arnie in on the plan.”

“Wait a second,” said Arnie.

“Yeah, what’s up, pal?” I said.

“Look, Ben,” said Arnie. “And no offense, Mr. Mojo, but, really, I’m not interested in taking part in this, this caper --”

“Call it an adventure then, Bernie,” said Mojo. “We needn’t call it a caper.”

“Look,” said Arnie, “all I want to do is to return to my own world.”

“I see,” said Mojo. “And what world would this be to which you wish to return?”

“I call it the real world,” said Arnie.

“You see, Mojo,” I said, putting down my Planter’s two-thirds gone. “Arnie says he’s sort of found himself in a fictional world.”

“Actually,” said Arnie, after finally polishing off the last of his beer, “this is a fictional world within a fictional world in another fictional world. I know it sounds preposterous.”

“Oh, no,” said Mojo, “not at all. I have heard of this sort of thing.”

“You have?”

“We members of the non-white races have access to all manner and realms of existence unknown to the average Caucasian with your so-called science and your upstart puppy-dog religions.”

“Hey, no need to get sacrilegious, Mojo,” I said. “I’m not a religious man myself in the regular sense, but, still, I do believe in, like, you know, a higher, uh --”

“Excuse me, Ben,” said Mojo, “but you don’t seriously think that Mr. Schteiglitz and I are interested in hearing about your religious beliefs, do you?”

“Nah, I guess not,” I said, stubbing out the last quarter-inch of my latest Caporal in the ashtray. “I was already getting bored myself, so, carry on.”

“As I was saying,” he said, passing his shot of ‘151’ under his nose, “the predicament which our friend Mr. Schnel-”

“Schnabel,” said Arnie. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“The predicament our friend finds himself in is rare -- rare indeed, but not so rare that its solution does not exist, at least in this world, if not in the one it amuses him to call ‘the “real" world’.”

“What?” I said. “You’ve totally lost me, Mojo.”

“I know how to help our friend with his problem.”

“No kidding,” I said.

“And help him I will, and shall. However, in order to help him I will need first a certain sum of money.”

“I got six bucks,” I said. “And change. How much you got, Arnie?”

“I think I have a dollar and some change,” he said.

“So we’re talking seven, maybe eight bucks between us,” I said. “Will you need more than that?”

“I am afraid so,” said Mojo. “And believe me it pains me to say so. But, no, our friend, uh --”

“Arnie,” I said.

“Our friend will need much more than that,” he said.

“How much more?” I asked.

“Minimum? I’m going to say a grand. Yes, at least a grand.”

“American?”

“Sorry, I was thinking pounds sterling, actually. So we’re probably talking three Gs American, at least. Maybe four.”

“Four Gs?” I said. “Can’t you knock it down a bit for an old pal?”

“The gelt’s not for me, cher Ben. The gelt is for this old broad I know what will help our friend Bernie out, but her services don’t come cheap.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Four Gs sounds pretty steep to me.”

“To transport a man from one state of reality to another, two worlds separated one from the other by two entire other universes? My dear Ben, we’re not talking about a rickshaw ride down to the beach, you know.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I said. “But wait, if -- and note I say if, Mojo -- if Arnie and I were to join you on this caper you got in mind, how much you think our end will be?”

“For the both of you?”

“Yeah, combined, what kind of take we looking at here.”

“If all goes well --”

“Yeah, if there ain’t no foul-up for once, unlike with them female river pirates.”

Putains!” said Mojo, and he spat an imaginary spit toward the floor.

“How much me and Arnie stand to make if the deal goes through?”

“Conservatively, Ben, I want to say, oh, three grand.”

“For the both of us,” I said.

“Yes,” said Mojo, “One large-and-a-half apiece. Maybe two large apiece, but I make no promises.”

“There ya go, Arnie buddy,” I said. “You’re covered. We pull off this little score of Mojo’s, then, first thing, well, maybe after we celebrate a little, but pretty soon after, we go hit up this old dame and see about getting you home, pooling our resources, because my dough is your dough, and I know you’d do the same for me if our situations were reversed.”

“Um,” said Arnie.

“And maybe,” I went on, “I’ll still have some left over for a few good loads and a couple high-priced lays. Now let’s drink these shots before they evaporate for Christ’s sake.”

“Excellent idea,” said Mojo. He raised his glass and I raised mine. We looked at Arnold. He looked at us.

“Oh, what the hell,” he said. And he picked up the third shot.

“To success,” said Mojo.

“To broads on Egyptian sheets,” I said.

“Whatever,” said Arnie.

We tossed the shots down.

It tasted like burning gasoline, and it burnt going down like burning gasoline. Damn, that stuff was good, and now I could tell that I was finally over the fifty-yard line to a good load, finally.

Arnie meanwhile was gasping, sweat pouring down his face almost like somebody had turned on a water fountain on the top of his head under his hat.

“There’s a good man,” I said.

“A stout fellow indeed,” said Mojo, who had swallowed down his shot like it was mother’s milk.

Oh -- no,” said Arnie, in between gasps.

“What is it, Arnie?” I said.

The -- pills,” he gasped. “The -- pink -- pills.

Damn.

The pills.

I had completely forgotten about those two big mysterious pink pills that that canary Maxine had given us. The pills I had dropped into our shots to, like, sterilize them. We had swallowed them down with the ‘151’.

Well, it was too late to bitch and moan about it now.


(Continued here, because of some inexplicable compulsion.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what on a good day is an up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode brought to you by Sweet Caporal Cigarettes: “It’s the ‘manlier’ smoke!”)

1 comment:

Kathleen Maher said...

A lucid dreamer might suggest Arnold flick the lights, but how futile. Things look more hopeless now than when he was lost along the borders of hell.