Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Big” Ben Blagwell in a certain low dive down by the docks in Singapore, where they have just discovered that the exotic chanteuse Maxine Parraquette has dosed them with a powerful and potentially deadly aphrodisiac known as the Pink Death Bomb. Also in attendance: a disreputable gentleman known as Mojo...
(Kindly go here to review our previous episode; click here to return to the hardly-remembered beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 91-volume journey into the infinite.)
“Each morning when I awake, my manservant Odo brings me a steaming bowl of café au lait, and I spend the next half-hour reading Arnold Schnabel on my Kindle™. Then I dress and shave and go out into that infinitely less interesting world, the one we risibly call ‘reality’.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Les Crane Show.
(Continued here, and until the fourteenth of never.)
I heaved myself up off my stool, picked up my Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’, took out the straw, dropped it down to the spit-gutter, tilted my head back and poured what was left of the drink down my trap, including what might have been another dead fly, but who was I to get particular at this stage of the game?
“And, so, mon cher Ben,” said Mojo, “we will chat some more after you have, as you Americans say --”
He made a circle or a hole I guess you could say with the thumb and forefinger of one of his chubby little hands (well, both his hands were little and chubby, but I’m just trying to be a little descriptive like those real writer fellows) and started poking the lit end of his cigar through the hole, but I held up one of my own big fingers, which needless to say are the only kind I’ve got, big strapping fellow like me.
“Now, keep it clean, Mojo,” I said. “Maxine may be just a blonde canary in a low dockside bar in Singapore, and, hey, maybe her morals wouldn’t meet with the approval of the Daughters of the American Revolution back in Peoria, but she’s still a broad, so let’s watch the language and the lewd gestures.”
“Oh, but of course, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “Please forgive my regrettable lapse in decorum.” And he stuck that enormous stogie back into his yap, damn thing was so big the little guy must’ve had jaws like tempered steel just to keep it from falling out.
“Such a gentleman you are, big boy,” said Maxine, to me obviously. To tell the truth I think maybe she couldn’t remember my name, but I’m not thin-skinned that way.
“Well, it’s like I always say, Maxine,” I said, “it don’t cost nothing to be polite.”
Arnold got up off his own stool. He seemed a little shaky on his feet.
“Are you, as you Americans say, ‘okay’, Mr. Schnitzel?” said Mojo
“Schnabel,” said Arnold. “Again, my name is Arnold Schnabel.” He paused for a moment, and then he mumbled something that I couldn’t hear, especially because the piano man was taking a solo now, banging out great crashing waves of smoky noise like he was Bud Powell at the tail-end of a weeklong hop-and-poppers binge.
“What did you say, Mr. Schappell?” said Mojo, and at least he got it almost right this time.
“I said, ‘Not that it matters,’” said Arnie.
“Not that what matters, Mr. Schnarpfel?” said Mojo.
“I doesn’t matter what my name is,” said Arnie. “It doesn’t matter what you call me. It doesn’t matter.”
“That’s just what I was thinking, Arnie,” I said, and I took out my trusty pack of Sweet Caporals. “You gotta be like psychological about these things.”
“What?” he said.
I gave the pack a shake, offered it to Maxine and she yanked one out.
“I said you gotta be, you know, maybe psychological ain’t the word. Pathological? Psychotical?”
I stuck a Caporal into my pie hole. I never pretended to be an Edgar Rice Burroughs or a Zane Grey when it comes to slinging big words around.
“I think you mean ‘philosophical’, Ben,” said Arnie, although for some reason he didn’t seem as if he really cared either way.
I put the pack away and in one smooth motion also took out the matches Arnie had given me earlier, the ones from the Musso and Frank Grill. I ripped one off, struck it, and cupping it in my two big mitts like I was on the deck of a leaky junk in a typhoon on the Sulu Sea, I gave Maxine a light, and then gave myself one. I breathed in that good hot smoke, feeling that scratchy good feeling way down in my inner engine room, and then I let the smoke out again, slow. That was the thing about a Sweet Caporal. It was kind of like me, really. It just did its job.
“I’m sorry, what did you say, Arnie?” I said.
“Never mind, Ben,” he said.
“Oh, I said,” pulling out the pack of Caporals again, “I’m sorry, did you want a smoke, Arnie?”
“No, thanks,” he said.
“Maybe afterwards,“ I said, shoving the pack back in my pocket. “Well, okay, pal, we better get a move on before those Pink Death Bombs start kicking in. You live far, Maxine?”
“My dump’s right upstairs, big boy,” she said, and she ran her fingers along my biceps, tracing the curves of the hula dancer tattooed there.
“Great,” I said. “I guess there’s no chance you got air-conditioning, right?”
“Not a chance in hell, pal. I got one of them black Westinghouse fans though.”
“The oscillating kind?”
“Better than nothing, but just be forewarned, I kind of sweat a lot.”
“You’re sweating a lot now.”
“Yeah, but I’ll be sweating even more in a little while.”
“I’ve been forewarned,” she said, in a voice that was kind of like the sound when you pull the husk off an ear of corn. “Come on, boys, I still got two more sets to do tonight.”
“Right,” I said, “let’s shake a leg, Arnie, we got some whoopee to make.”
“Hold on,” said Arnie. “Look, you go ahead, Ben.”
“What, you want me to go first?”
Now here was a real pal, I was thinking, he really was the nicest guy in the world, even if he could be a bit of a party-pooper sometimes, but then his eyes started to dart around like he was afraid somebody was going to sneak up and bash him on the head with a baseball bat just for laughs.
“I, uh, want to, um, wash my hands,” he said.
“Your hands are clean enough,” I said. “Right, Maxine?”
“Plenty clean,” said Maxine. “But maybe he don’t mean just wash his hands.”
“Oh, I get it,” I said. “You’re just being polite on account of a lady present. Well, look, hurry up and use the head and we’ll wait for you.”
“No, Ben,” he said. “Don’t wait for me.”
“You want us to go upstairs and start without you? Sure,” I said, and I turned to Maxine. “Give Arnie the directions to your cabin, babe.”
“Right up the stairs behind the bandstand,” she said. “First door on the left. It’ll be unlocked.”
“Look,” said Arnie, “I think I’ll just skip it if you don’t mind.”
“Ha ha,” said Mojo. He was still sitting on the bar top, his little legs dangling off, kicking them back and forth just like a little kid sitting on a wall and laughing because he just saw the neighborhood bully get run over by the milk truck.
“Hey, what gives, buster,” said Maxine, to Arnie, I don’t think she remembered his name either. “Something wrong with me?”
“No, no,” said Arnold, “it’s just that --”
“Ha ha,” said Mojo again, almost like he was really laughing. “You had better do something very soon, Mr. Schapfenhürz, either go to Maxine’s boudoir or run quickly to the W.C. because as soon as the Pink Death Bomb takes full effect if you do not seek immediate relief then as I have indicated you will find your own little personal paperback-original novel coming to an explosive and very bloody end.”
“Right,” said Arnie. “Okay, which way is the men’s room?”
“I have never been so insulted in all my born days,” said Maxine. “To think I wasted one of them Pink Death Bombs on a loser like you.”
“Y’know,” I said, “Maxine’s got a point, Arnie. I mean, you’re my pal and all, but a dame’s got feelings too, y’know.”
“I”m sorry,” said Arnie, “but listen, I just can’t do this sort of thing.”
“But I said you can go first, buddy. I don’t mind. Do you mind, Maxine?”
“All the same to me,” said Maxine.
“I appreciate that,” said Arnold, “but it’s just -- I don’t just -- you know -- go to bed with women, just --”
“Oh, so you’re a pansy,” said Maxine. “I wouldn’t have guessed. Too bad. You’re kinda cute, too. Oh, well, come on, big fella,” she said, and she tugged on my Hawaiian shirt short-sleeve. “You’re gonna have to do the work of two men.”
“Wait,” I said, “but Arnie’s not a pansy.” And now it was me who had to take pause. “You aren’t, are you, Arnie? Because, believe me, it don’t affect our bond of friendship even if you are. I am a sailor after all.”
“No, Ben,” he said. “I’m not a pansy. It’s just, it’s just --”
“Oh, wait, I get it now,” I said, and I have to say, I was seeing Arnie in a whole new light now. “It’s because of that doll you left behind. Erika.”
“Elektra,” he said.
“Elektra,” I said. “You’re so much in love with that dame that you got to be faithful to her, even if she is back home in Cape Elizabeth.”
“Cape May,” said Arnie.
“Cape May,” I said. “That’s what I meant to say.”
“Okay,” said Arnie.
“So that’s it? That you’re too much in love with, uh --”
“Elektra,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “You’e too gosh darn crazy about her to even think about, uh, you know --”
“Making, as you Americans say, the act of darkness,” said Mojo.
“Right,” I said, “just too damned crazy about that gal even to think about making the act of darkness with even a class broad like Maxine, even if you have just popped a, uh, --”
“Pink Death Bomb,” said Mojo, “most powerful aphrodisiac known to man.”
“Right,” I said. “And not because you’re a pansy.”
“Right, Ben,” said Arnie.
“I still don’t buy it,” said Maxine. “Look, pal,” she said, talking directly to Arnie now. “Being a pansy is nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t help yourself. It just seems like a goddam waste to me, that’s all. A goddam waste of a big, rawboned good-looking hunk of a man.”
“But, but, but --” said Arnold.
Maxine snaked one of her arms around my arm, or at least as much of it as she could manage, because, you know, my arms have been compared to tree trunks, and not those little spindly little tree trunks, either, and just for the record, it’s true Arnie was a pretty big guy but he wasn’t as big as me, not by a long shot.
“Let’s go, Mighty Joe Young,” said Maxine, meaning me, I guess maybe she really didn’t remember my name, not that I gave a damn, not really, not too much, anyway. “Looks like you’re gonna have to be your own relief pitcher,” she said.
“No problem, doll,” I said. I turned back to Arnie. “So, pal, I guess I’ll see you in about --” I looked at Maxine --”what, fifteen minutes?”
“More like ten,” she said. “Like I said, I gotta get back onstage, warble a few more tunes for my rice bowl.”
“See ya in ten then, Arnie,” I said. “And, Mojo --” I touched the wing of my nose, or at least what’s left of the wing of my nose after all the times my schnoz has been busted with fists and pipes and monkey-wrenches and billy clubs and sliced with butterfly-knives and straight razors and scimitars and whatnot --”Mojo, when I get back you and me and Arnie will have a little chinwag about this caper you got in mind.”
“Enjoy yourself, mon cher Ben,” said Mojo. “And you, too, Mademoiselle Maxine. I wish you both the absolute heights of ecstasy. May your cries of passion echo through the dark alleyways, and may the dust and plaster descend from the ceiling above us like a snowfall of joy.”
“Remind me to add a layer of rat poison to your next pousse-café,” said Maxine. “You vile little rodent.”
“Ha ha,” said Mojo, and he hefted that great log of a cigar up and into his trap again.
Arnie, he didn’t say anything. He just looked nervous. I don’t know what his problem was, but he was really out of sorts this evening.
Maxine gave my elephant-leg arm a pull, and we shoved off finally, but as we did Mojo called out, “I shall be with you in spirit, mon cher Ben!”
Well, I have to admit that last thing he said made me just a little uneasy, but I did my best to put it out of my mind as Maxine and I made our way through that smoky crowded bar toward the bandstand, where those cats were blaring out a crazy gone rhapsody like a sauce-pan factory on the day the boss went nuts and handed out fifths of gin laced with mescaline to all the workers. It sounded pretty good, but it was time for Maxine and yours truly to make our own kind of music now, the kind that doesn’t get written down on lined sheets of paper and printed up in books so the Salvation Army band can play it.
I watched Ben and the girl work their way around the bandstand and go through a doorway, the girl going first because it was too narrow for them to go through side by side. Then I looked at the little man, Mojo, who was still sitting there on the bar top, his little legs dangling off it -- he was smoking that big cigar, and smiling around it, looking at me, and I realized I was narrating the story now, at last, or at least for the time being, anyway.
(Continued here, and until the fourteenth of never.)
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