In a certain low dive in Singapore, our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Big” Ben Blagwell have just swallowed a shot of ‘151’ rum apiece, in each of which had been macerating a mysterious large pink pill…
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“After Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Proust, after Joyce and Faulkner and Beckett, after Hemingway and Chandler and Horace P. Sternwall, there is only Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Argosy.
“Alors,” said Mojo, “what’s all this about ‘pink pills’?”
“Well, it’s like this, Mojo,” I said. “Y’know this canary who sings with the band here, Maxine Parraquette?”
“Maxine? Sure I know Maxine,” said Mojo. “Everybody knows Maxine.”
I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that, but I went on.
“Well,” I said, “she laid a couple of these big pink pills on us.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And you know me, I was all for popping them right down straight away, but Arnie here didn’t want to take them on account of the germs, y’know?”
“It wasn’t -- just -- the germs,” said Arnold.
“No?” I said.
“No,” he said, he was still gasping a little from the shot, sweat pouring down his face. “You -- don’t even -- know what they were.”
“Aw, they couldn’t be anything that bad. Right, Mojo?”
I gave him a little wiggle and a bounce with my thigh. In case you’ve forgotten, the little guy was still sitting on my lap. He was really light though, so it didn’t bother me. It was like having a little kid on your lap. Or a really small broad. He had been drawing on that big cigar of his, and he let the smoke out slow before saying anything.
“Big pink pills, you say?” he said.
“Yeah, pretty big,” I said. “Anyway, so I dropped them in our shots of ‘151’, ‘cause I figured the ‘151’ would like sterilize them.”
“Well, I should imagine it would,” said Mojo, “if anything would.”
“Exactly,” I said. “And then you showed up and I kinda forgot the pills were in the shots till Arnie here just mentioned it.”
Arnie had stopped gasping from the shot, but now he was back to holding his hand over the lower part of his face, while moving his head slowly a little from side to side, but all the time keeping his hand in the same place. He looked kind of worried, to tell the God’s honest truth.
“I guess you kinda forgot the pills were in the shots, too, right, Arnie?” I said.
Arnie didn’t say anything, just kept turning his face from side to side in his open hand, as if doing that would somehow make everything go away.
“I said I don’t think you remembered I’d put the pills in the shots, Arnie,” I said again, just in case he hadn’t heard me because of that sweet smoky racket the combo was laying down, the trumpet player riding a roller-coaster solo now and sounding just like Dizzy himself might sound if he was three sheets to the wind on cheap gin and had just tossed down a couple of cups of black java laced with cocaine syrup in a vain attempt to sober up.
Finally Arnie took his hand away from his face and said, “No, Ben, I didn’t remember the pills were in the shots, otherwise I wouldn’t have drunk that shot.”
“But you would have drunk the shot if the pill wasn’t in it,” I said. You know, I was just curious. But Arnie didn’t say anything in reply, just stared at me with his mouth open just a little bit.
“Your friend Archie seems upset, Ben,” said Mojo.
“His name’s Arnold, actually, Mojo,” I said.
“Yes, of course it is,” said Mojo. “Mr. Schellenberg --”
Arnie turned and looked at him, taking his hand away from his face as he did so.
“My name is Schnabel,” he said. “Arnold Schnabel.”
“Yes, of course it is,” said Mojo. “You seem upset.”
“Arnie’s not upset,” I said.
“Oh no?” said Mojo.
“Arnie?” I said. “He don’t let little s**t bother him. Guy’s got ice-water in his veins.”
“He seems upset,” said Mojo.
“He’s not upset,” I said. “Maybe just a little concerned, y’know? On account of he’s trapped in a fictional universe, you know, and separated from his own supposedly real universe by two other fictional universes. And then there’s the fact that a little while ago he took a tab of LSD, thinking it was an aspirin. And now he’s taken some other damn pill --”
“The large pink pilule,” said Mojo, helping me out in case I had just had a brain stroke or something I guess.
“Yeah,” I went on, “the big pink pill, and he don’t know what it is. But I wouldn’t say he’s upset. Concerned but not upset. Right, champ?”
Arnie sighed, and I guess this was about the ninety-seventh time he had sighed just in the past fifteen minutes.
“May I ask you a question, sir?” said Mojo, meaning Arnie, I think he’d forgotten Arnie’s name again, or leastways wasn’t too sure of it.
“Yeah, sure,” said Arnie.
“Do you not have all four of your limbs? Both arms, both legs?”
“Yes,” said Arnold. “I have all my limbs.”
“You will forgive me for asking a rhetorical question,” said Mojo.
“Yeah, sure,” said Arnie.
“What’s a rhetorical question?” I said.
“It’s when you ask a question not really to find something out, but to make a sort of point,” said Mojo.
“Oh, I get it,” I said. “Like if you said, ‘Hey, if God created the universe, then who created God?’”
“Yes,” said Mojo. “Unless of course you truly expect the person to answer the question.”
“But then,” I said, “who created the fella who created God?”
“Are you asking me that?” said Mojo.
“And who created the guy who created the fella who created God?”
“I have no idea,” said Mojo.
“And who created the geezer who created the guy who created the fella who created God?”
“Okay, I get it, cher Ben,” said Mojo.
“It was just a retortative question,” I said.
“A regurgitant question?”
“I see,” said Mojo, and he rolled his eyes for some reason and then turned back to Arnie.
“So, Mr. Schlossberg, not only do you have all four of your limbs, but you are young and healthy, and with the rough-hewn good looks of a Steve Cochran or a Rory Calhoun --”
“I see a little John Garfield there too,” I said.
“But John Garfield alas is dead,” said Mojo. “Your friend Alex is not.”
“Who’s Alex?” I said.
“He means me,” said Arnold.
“Yes, of course I mean him,” said Mojo. “And my point my dear fellow is that why should you be even a little as you Americans say ‘concerned’ when you are in possession of all your limbs, and not crippled, or suffering from some painful wasting disease, leprosy, say? Look at me, I am only three feet ten inches in height -- I know, I know, I look much taller, but that’s because of the high-heeled custom-made boots I wear -- everywhere I go people call me dwarf, shorty, half-pint --”
“Mojo the Midget,” I said.
“Mojo the Midget they call me,” said Mojo. “But you don’t see me looking like my cat just died, do you? So why not cheer up?”
“He’s got a point, Arnie,” I said.
“Okay, I have to leave,” said Arnold.
“Wait,” I said. “Where you going, Arnie? We’re just getting started.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Somewhere.”
“But we’re gonna help you, Arnie,” I said.
“How?” he said.
“This old broad Mojo was talking about. What’s her name, Mojo?”
“Madame Chang,” said Mojo, and he began to sip his pousse-café through the black straw sticking out of it. He drank the bottom layer first, the red one.
“Madame Chang,” I said. “All we gotta do is pull off this little caper Mojo’s got in mind, then we collect the gelt and go see this Madame Chang broad, and get her to, uh --”
“Return him to his own world,” said Mojo, lifting his lips from his straw after the yellow and the orange layers of his pousse-café had disappeared through it.
“Forget it,” said Arnie. “I already told you, I’m not pulling off any ‘capers’.”
“Eh bien,” said Mojo. “Qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?”
(This is Frog talk for “Whaddaya gonna do?” by the way. I speak pretty good Frog-talk on account of a six-month bit I did one time in the Port-au-Prince pen, after I had gotten mixed up with these former Nazi female assassins --)
Arnold got off his barstool.
“I really have to go,” he said.
“I should not, as you Americans say, advise it,” said Mojo.
Arnold stood there a moment, looking at Mojo, then at me, then at Mojo again.
“Oh, no,” said Mojo. “I shouldn’t advise leaving. Not in your present state.”
“He’s only had a couple beers and a shot of ‘151’,” I said. “Arnie can handle that.”
“You forget the LSD tablet he, as you Yanks say, ‘popped’ not long ago.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“And the pink pill,” said Mojo. “The pink pill in the shot of ‘151’. The large pink pill.”
“Aw,” I said, “it’s probably just like a benny or something, or maybe one of them amphetamines, they’re pretty harmless, we used to eat ‘em like candy back in the war.”
“If those are the pink pills I think they are then they are far from something as harmless as amphetamines,” said Mojo. “Oh yes indeed. Large pink pills?”
“Pretty large,” I said.
“Say the size of a lima bean?”
“I hate lima beans,” I said.
“They were about the size of a lima bean,” said Arnie. “What are they?”
“You mean what were they,” said Mojo. “Because by now they are already completely dissolved and coursing through your bloodstream.”
“What were they?” said Arnold.
“What were they?” said Mojo. I don’t know why he said this. Maybe he was being rhetoricianal again.
“Yes,” said Arnie. “What were they?”
“The ingredients of the big pink pill,” said Mojo, and I could tell he was going to go off on one of his little speeches, and sure enough he did, this guy just loved to hear himself talk -- “which were first synthesized by a certain Hungarian scientist working for the German Reich who since the war has been forced to live incognito, some say in Brazil, some say in the jungles of New Guinea -- the ingredients as I say are a mixture of Yohimbe bark, ginseng, yage, dried penis of the Indo-Chinese pygmy deer, Jimson root, and the excrement of the Borneo tiger scorpion.”
“Damn, I can tell you a story about them Borneo tiger scorpions,” I said, but Mojo just went right on, he can be pretty rude that way.
“Some people call the pills Pink Lima Beans,” he said, and he tapped his cigar ash off with his finger. The ash fell on the knee of my dungarees, but I didn’t give a damn, and I left it there. “In Hong Kong and Macao they are called Pink Cockroaches,” he said. “The Yakuza of Japan call them Pink Banzais. But more commonly and universally they are known by the street name of -- Pink Death Bombs.”
Arnold sat back down on his barstool. He picked up his Tiger Beer bottle, but it was empty. He put it back down again.
“Pink Death Bombs,” I said. “That sounds like some pretty strong stuff.”
“Oh, yes indeed, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “Strong, as you Americans say, 'stuff', indeed.”
“Y’know,” I said, “Limeys say that, too,” I said. “And Aussies. South Africans, Canadians.”
“Yes of course they do.”
“So you don’t really have to say, ‘as you Americans say’. You can just say it.”
“I can, cher Benjamin, say, as you Americans say, many things.”
“That’s true,” I said.
“Or I can say very few things.”
“No argument there,” I said.
“It is not necessary to reply to every vague but undeniable statement I make, cher Benjamin.”
“You’ve got a point there, too, Mojo,” I said.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” said Arnie.
“What’s the matter, Arnie?” I said.
“He’s upset,” said Mojo. He took another sip of his pousse-café, and this time the chocolate layer disappeared. He licked his lips.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the toy frog himself,” said a lady’s voice.
I turned. It was Maxine, finally back from the powder room.
“Ah, Maxine,” said Mojo. “How nice to see you.”
“Drop dead, you slimy little toad.”
“Charming as ever,” said Mojo.
Ignoring Mojo, Maxine looked at me.
“Hey, buddy, you find what I left on the bar there under your hand?”
“The two pink pills?” I said. “Yeah, in fact --”
“Sssh,” she shushed. “You don’t got to tell the whole world. Including this little tree-monkey here.”
“Well, he, uh, already --”
“I know all about your little pink pills, ma chérie,” said Mojo.
“Shut up, you little anteater,” she said. She looked at me and then at Arnie.
“So, did you take them?”
“We sure did,” I said. “Swallowed ‘em down with shots of ‘151’.”
“Tough guys, huh?”
“Well, I’d say I can lick most fellers my size,” I said. “As for Arnie, well --”
“You boys always swallow strange pills strange broads hand to you?”
I thought about it a second.
“Well,” I said, “it hasn’t happened to me all that often, but I got to say, generally-speaking, yes, I do. What about you, Arnie?”
Arnie didn’t say anything, but he had that nervous look again, maybe even panicky.
“Just a couple of big dumb studs,” said Maxine.
“Hey, are Arnie and I to be, like, vilified, just ‘cause we got trusting natures?”
“Don’t take it to heart,” she said. “I like ‘em dumb. Big and dumb.”
“Well, uh,” I said.
“Ha ha,” said Mojo.
“Maybe you fellas would like to come up to my flat just for a few minutes,” said Maxine.
“Don’t you have to sing?” I said.
“I’m on my break,” she said. “Come on, let’s breeze.”
With any luck she had some reefer in her pad. Some reefer and a bottle of ‘151’. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a dame who keeps a few amenities in her joint.
“So, like,” I said, “You want like all of us to come up?”
“Not the little iguana. I’m not that desperate. Just you and your muscular pal.”
“Ha ha,” said Mojo.
“Hey, squirt,” said Maxine. “I say something funny maybe?”
“Ha ha, you slay me, Maxine.”
“I’ll slay you all right.”
“Hot to, as you Americans say, 'trot', aren’t you, Maxine.”
“I’m not American.”
“But you are hot to trot.”
“Hey, Mojo,” I said. “You should speak like a gentleman to a broad.”
“Oh, mon cher Ben, don’t you know what the Pink Death Bomb does?”
“Well,” I said, “I guess we’ll be getting pretty high pretty soon, right?”
“I don’t think ‘high’ is the correct adjective.”
“Benjamin, you have heard I presume of Spanish fly.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I usually pick up an ounce or two whenever I hit Tijuana, not that I need it, you understand --”
“Eh bien, mon cher, let me just say that Spanish fly is to the Pink Death Bomb as a baby aspirin is to a good shot of raw heroin.”
“Um,” I said.
“Oh, no,” said Arnold.
“Okay, lecture’s over,” said Maxine. “We’d better get up to my trap while you two fellas are still able to walk.”
“Oh, my,” said Mojo, still sitting on my lap you understand, “I think I feel a stirring already beneath my bum.”
“Oh, Christ,” said Arnie.
I picked up Mojo off my lap and sat him on the bar.
“Well, we’d better go, Arnie,” I said. “Don’t worry, I’ll let you take firsties, pal.”
“No,” he said.
“I think you better had go,” said Mojo, “Mr. Schna-, Schna-”
“Schnabel,” said Arnie.
“I was going to say that,” said Mojo. “But you really better had take up Mademoiselle Maxine’s offer, because once the Pink Death Bomb takes full effect, which should be in -- oh -- shall we say five minutes?” He took a pause here and slurped up the maroon layer of his pousse-café. “Yes, let us say five minutes at the outside, if you do not immediately seek as you Americans say ‘relief’ within that span of time then your scrotal sack will be in danger of exploding like a popped balloon, with a great shower of blood and other bodily fluids, causing a consequent excruciating and horrible death.”
“Okay, we’d better hurry then,” I said. “Come on, Arnie.”
“Yeah, quit wasting time,” said Maxine, “I’m supposed to be on again in fifteen minutes, so let’s make this quick.”
(Continued here, because the people demand it.)
(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page for a 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 Bacardi ‘151’™ rum. “Please, we know you want to have a good time, but, for the love of God, drink responsibly!”)