Let’s return to a certain obscure building off a dark alleyway not far from the docks of Singapore and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his faithful “Dr Watson” Big Ben Blagwell, in the grandiose chambers of the mysterious and exotic Madame Chang…
(Kindly go here to read our most previous chapter; if you’re really serious about finding a new way to waste your time then click here to go back to the barely-remembered beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 39-volume memoir.)
“As often as Arnold Schnabel seems to descend to the depths of pulp penny-dreadful authors like Horace P. Sternwall or Fred Flynn (just to name two of his avowed favorites), just so often does he ascend to the heights of a Proust or a Joyce, two authors of whom it is extremely doubtful he ever read a single word.” -- Harold Bloom, in the Cape May County Herald.
But then she glanced at me, still holding that little automatic on me you understand. “Unless you would prefer something a little stronger, big fellow?”
“How about a Planter’s Punch, with a float of “151” rum,” I said.
She looked at me for about half a minute, like she was trying to decide which of my eyes to put a slug into.
Then she said to the big oriental guy, “You heard him, Futuyama, Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’ rum. And tea for three.”
“Oh, I wonder, Madame Chang,” said Mojo, “might I possibly impinge on your hospitality if it’s not too much trouble by requesting a pousse-café? It’s only that if I drink tea this late it keeps me up all night you see.”
“What about green tea, or white tea?” said Madame Chang. “Very low in caffeine, full of nutrients.”
“Oh, I’m afraid even green and white teas give me the most horrid insomnia.”
Now Madame Chang gave Mojo her thirty-second stare, but at least she wasn’t holding her rod on him.
“You’re really too much, Mojo,” said Madame Chang. “Why don’t you just come right out and say you want a free goddamn drink?”
I noticed that Mojo was sweating, even though it was strangely cool in this room.
“But, but, but --” he said.
“Don’t ‘but’ me. I only want you to say that you want a free drink and not to hand me a lot of crap about about tea keeping you up at night.”
“But, you know, Madame Chang, out of my own humble pocket I already had to buy these two chaps some several drinks tonight --” he said.
“I bought this one here two quite dear Planter's Punches, or was it three?” he said, looking at me.
“Hey, I wasn’t counting, pal,” I said. My Sweet Caporal was almost down to a burning nub and I looked around for an ashtray.
“Let’s say I bought him three, then,” said Mojo. “And I also bought Arnold --”
“Say it,” said Madame Chang.
“Oh, very well,” he said. He took his handkerchief out of the breast pocket of his suit jacket and mopped his forehead. “I want a free drink. There, are you happy, Madame Chang?”
“I don’t know the meaning of the word happy,” she said.
There was a vase over near the doorway so I stepped toward it with my Caporal butt.
“Where the hell are you going?” said Madame Chang.
“Just gonna dump my butt,” I said.
“In my priceless Ming vase you’re gonna dump your cigarette butt.”
“So -- it’s not for cigarettes?” I said.
“Is it filled with sand?”
I took a step closer and looked into it.
“No,” I said. “No sand.”
“Then it’s not for cigarettes.”
“Sorry,” I said.
She looked at Arnie, and wiggled her automatic up and down. “What about you, sleeping beauty? I suppose you want a frozen mango daiquiri? With a cherry on top.”
“Just some tea, please,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Chinese black tea okay?”
“Is that like the kind you get in Chinese restaurants?”
“Yes, but better. I get mine delivered special. I don’t drink that swill they serve in Chinese restaurants.”
“That’s fine then,” he said.
“Okay,” said Madame Chang. “Now that we got all that straight. Tea for two, Futuyama, plus one pousse-café, and a Planter’s Punch for the nautical Paul Bunyan here.”
“With a float of ‘151’,” I said. “Just pour like half-a-shot over an inverted spoon and let it float on top of the drink.”
Futuyama looked at Madame Chang.
“Whatever,” she said.
Futuyama bowed to her and then turned and lumbered away. The guy was so big you could feel the floor vibrating under the oriental carpet we were standing on with each step he took.
“Come, let us sit,” said Madame Chang.
She waved her gun toward the middle of this big room we were in, to an area where there was a long low lacquered table and some chairs and divans and couches and smaller tables. When we got there Madame Chang pointed the gun at a sort of pink velvet love seat and said, “You two, sit there where I can keep an eye on you.”
Neither Arnie or I were in any position to argue, so we sat down in the love seat, even though it was a tight fit, me being such a big muscular guy and all. Fortunately there was a standing ashtray on my side and I was finally able to get rid of my Caporal butt before it could totally burn the flesh off my thumb and finger.
“May I sit, Madame Chang?” said Mojo. “I must say I still feel somewhat dazed and not a little in pain after being so mercilessly cold-cocked by that big brute --”
“Mojo,” said Madame Chang.
“Yes, Madame Chang?”
“Do me a favor, will you?”
“Of course, Madame Chang.”
“Go over to that footstool there,” she gestured to a brocaded footstool opposite me and Arnie on the other side of the low table. “That’s about your size.”
Mojo walked over to the footstool and then looked at her, all expectant like.
“Now sit down on that stool and shut the hell up,” said Madame Chang.
“Of course, Madame Chang,” said Mojo, and he sat down on it. Poor little guy, as low as the table was you could still only see his head and chest over it. But he kept his Luger on me and Arnie, he didn’t forget about that.
Madame Chang sat herself down in a really fancy armchair to the left of Mojo, all red velvet and gold and I don’t know, I can’t describe those kinds of things. It looked like something maybe a queen would sit in, not a throne exactly, but just a really fancy queen’s chair for when she was sitting around the coffee table shooting the breeze with her friends the dukes and duchesses, like that. Except more Chinese. Like a Chinese queen’s chair. Back when they had queens in China instead of commissars. So I guess it was kind of like a commissar’s chair.
“So,” she said -- and she kept us waiting while she laid her automatic on the arm of her chair, took a cigarette out of an enameled box on a little table next to her chair, and lit herself up with a table lighter in the shape of a dragon -- “you gentlemen are probably wondering what all this intrigue is in aid of?”
“Well, Madame Chang,” I said, and I leaned away a bit from Arnie so I could get my Sweet Caporals out of my Hawaiian shirt-pocket, and now I’m wondering, am I supposed to keep mentioning that I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt? Or is once enough? Maybe just once in a while? Well, anyway, yeah, it was the same Hawaiian shirt I’d been wearing all night, and I leaned away from Arnie so I could get my cigarettes out of the pocket, on account of Arnie was sitting to my right and we were so scrunched together on that love seat. It feels funny calling it a love seat. But let’s face it, that’s what it was, so I guess I’m stuck with it. Anyway, I took the cigarettes out, gave them a shake and popped one into my trap.
“What?” said Madame Chang. “Finish your sentence please.”
There you go, I had been so busy thinking about my Hawaiian shirt and everything that I forgot to finish my thought. I’ll bet those real writer fellows don’t have these problems.
“Come on, spit it out,” she said.
“I forget what I was going to say,” I said. I took out the Musso & Frank’s matches and gave myself a light, doing it my usual way, cupping my big hamlike fists around the flame like I was standing on the deck of a junk in the South China Sea in the middle of a bad typhoon, even though I was indoors, that’s just me. “So, please, continue with what you were saying, Madame Chang.”
“I was saying I suppose you gentlemen are wondering what all this intrigue is in aid of.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “That’s what I was going to say.”
I waved the match out and tossed it at the ashtray. I missed. I was tempted to get up and pick it up off the rug, but I was hoping Madame Chang hadn’t noticed.
“What,” said Madame Chang. “What were you going to say.”
She said it like that, kind of without a question mark if you know what I mean. Looking at me the way a black mamba out in the Belgian Congo once looked at me, but that’s another story I guess.
“What was I going to say?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “Before you threw your match on my expensive rug.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Madame Chang,” I said, and I started to heave myself up from the love seat, “I’ll get it --”
“Sit back down,” she said.
“Um, okay,” I said, and I sat the hell back down, trying not to squash Arnie while I did it.
“Go on,” she said.
“Go ‘on’…” I said, kind of with the three dots like that, like maybe she had said something in one of those obscure Chinese dialects that I’m not too familiar with.
“Yes, please finish what you were saying. We wait with bated breath.”
“I kind of forget what I was going to say,” I said, taking a drag of my Sweet Caporal, probably one of those drags those writer fellows call a “pensive” drag.
“Again,” she said.
“Yeah. Again,” I said.
I not only heard Arnie sigh, I could feel him sigh. It was like a full-body sigh if you know what I mean.
Madame Chang lifted her automatic up off the arm of her chair, and just kind of looked at it.
“Oh, I know what I was going to say,” I said, in a hurry, just like the way I jumped into the Congo River in a hurry that time with the black mamba, “I was going to say, Madame Chang, yeah, I was wondering what all the intrigue is in aid of. Weren’t you, Arnie?”
“Yeah,” he said, although for some reason he didn’t sound too interested. “Sure.”
“What?” I said. “What’s the matter, pal?”
He looked at me, turning his head a bit, looking out of the corner of his eye like, and then he sighed again.
“Nothing, Ben,” he said.
“Still feeling a little groggy from that Mickey that Mojo slipped you, huh?”
“Yes, a little,” he said.
“Some of that nice hot black tea will perk you right up, buddy, won’t it, Madame Chang?”
“Do you see?” said Mojo, turning to look at Madame Chang. “Now do you see what a great idiot he is?”
“I’m not blind,” she said. “Or deaf. You just keep your eyes front, little man, and your pudgy little finger on that Luger trigger.”
“Certainly, Madame Chang,” said Mojo. “I was only saying --”
“Silence!” she said. “It’s bad enough I have to listen to the big galoot, I don’t need to hear your midget’s drivel as well!”
“I was only saying,” said Mojo.
“I know what you were saying. He’s an idiot. So shut up.”
“Sorry,” he said.
So, I’m thinking right here, these two might be in league with each other in whatever deadly intrigue was going on here, but they sure didn’t get along too well together. I made a mental note of that. This is what you got to do in the deadly intrigue game. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, and make mental notes. If you’ve got a notepad and a pencil, maybe jot them down. Otherwise, just try to remember them.
“So,” I said, “getting back to the deadly intrigue business, Madame Chang --”
“The 'deadly' intrigue?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I assume it’s deadly. Correct me if I’m wrong.”
“No,” she said. “You could say it’s deadly all right.”
“Okay,” I said, and I blew out a big cloud of Sweet Caporal smoke, because that’s a good thing to do when you’re about to say something more than a how-do-ya-do, “so, this deadly intrigue, what’s the scoop? I thought we were gonna pull off some kind of caper with Mojo here, and with the scratch from the caper we were gonna pay you to get Arnie back to his supposedly real world.”
Arnie sighed again.
“What?” I said.
“Nothing,” he said. “Go on, Ben.”
“Okay,” I said. “But instead of a caper, Mojo drugs Arnie while I’m making whoopee with a lady friend and drags him to your pad. I don’t get it. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get it. It’s like when you’re reading a serial book bonus in one of them men’s adventure magazines and you miss an issue. Like, what the hell’s going on, y’know?”
She finally put the automatic back down on the chair arm. So that was a relief.
She took one of those pensive kinds of drags from her own cigarette, and let the smoke out, slow.
“Very well,” she said. “I will tell you what the hell’s going on. Try to pay attention, because I don’t like to repeat myself.”
“All ears I am,” I said, hoping it wasn’t all going to be too complicated or boring. “Fire away, Madame Chang. I mean, not literally speaking if you know what I mean. Heh heh.”
I knew I had to be careful with this broad.
She was really very touchy.
(Continued here, and. at this rate, for approximately twenty-seven more years.)
(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find a fairly frequently-updated listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Soon to be a glorious Technicolor extravaganza featuring Dick Powell as Arnold, Alan Hale as Ben, and Anna May Wong as Madame Chang; musical numbers composed by Irving Berlin; a Busby Berkeley Production for MGM.)