We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in a rather dramatic moment, trapped as the poor fellow is in the world of a strangely obscure paperback novel called Rummies of the Open Road…
(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; obsessive completists may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume autobiography.)
“I have no great fear of death per se, but I do fear shuffling off this mortal coil before I have read Arnold Schnabel’s towering and massive chef-d'œuvre in its entirety.” – Harold Bloom, in The AARP Literary Digest.
Unfortunately for me – or, who knows, maybe fortunately – Laughing Lou raised up his enormous left arm just in time to block the armchair, and one of its legs shattered just like the legs of chairs and barstools always do in fights in movies. He did fall over however, to his right, away from the blow, and as he fell his great legs overturned the table on top of poor Horace, the glasses and ashtrays and bourbon bottle and beer bottles all flying and crashing. Laughing Lou hit the floor with the thunderous dithering thump of a hippo pushed off a six-story roof, but he rolled over once and then rather amazingly leapt to his feet again with the nimbleness of a Bruno Sammartino in his prime recovering from a body slam. His derby had fallen off, revealing a balding shiny head, but he still had his enormous cigar in one hand and the revolver in the other. The revolver was pointed at me.
He was panting. I was panting, too, although to be honest I had not exerted myself to any great extent. I was vaguely aware of Horace pushing himself out from under the upside-down table and getting to his feet. I had no idea where Ferdinand was. I was concentrating on the muzzle of that pistol, which was pointed, as far as I could tell, at my chest.
Laughing Lou continued panting for almost a minute, it felt like a half hour, and then he spoke.
“Drop that chair,” he said.
I wasn’t even aware until that moment that I still held the broken chair. I dropped it, and, having only three legs now, it fell over to the floor.
“And here I was only trying to help you,” said Laughing Lou.
“I’m sorry if I overreacted,” I said.
“Trying to help you I was,” he said, “you and this two-bit hack here.”
He gestured at Horace, who was running his fingers over his shirt and tie, which were soaked with bourbon. His fedora had fallen off. His head was balding also, although he wasn’t as bald as Laughing Lou.
“Hey, Lou,” said Horace, “I told Arnold, I asked him, you heard me, I asked him to, to – to sit down, to –”
“Clam up, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “I was not addressing you.”
“Sorry,” said Horace. “I didn’t mean to, you know –”
“Didn’t I just tell you to clam up?”
“That’s right, you did, Lou,” said Horace. “I apologize. I’ll clam up –”
Laughing Lou pointed the pistol at Horace. “Stop jabbering and turn that table right side up again. Slow.”
“Slow?” said Horace.
“Slow and easy like,” said Laughing Lou.
“’Slow and easy like,’” said Ferdinand, who I now could see was hovering about ten feet off the floor, roughly above the center of the overturned table. “Slow and easy like,” he repeated. “Who even talks like that?”
“And you, you little wiseass insect,” said Laughing Lou. “You think I couldn’t plug you with this gat?”
“Um, no, I don’t think you could in fact, fat man,” said Ferdinand. “In case you haven’t noticed, this ain’t some Audie Murphy western, and there’s no way in hell you’re gonna hit a fly with a snubnose .38 at this distance.”
“You want to bet on that, pipsqueak?” said Laughing Lou.
“Go ahead,” said Ferdinand, “please, try. Be my guest. See, I won’t even fly around, I’ll just like hover here.”
By this time Horace had managed to turn the table upright again. I didn’t help him. This may have been rude on my part, but at the time I didn’t care.
“Listen, everyone –” said Horace.
“What?” said Laughing Lou, who was still panting. I guess he was out of shape. Or maybe he was just excited.
Horace spread out his hands.
“Can’t we all just start over? Somehow we got off on the wrong foot, but I think if we –”
“Shut up, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “And pick your chair up.”
“Yes, of course, Lou,” said Horace, “of course –” and he turned and picked up his overturned chair. “Can I pick my hat up, and my cigar? I don’t want it to burn your nice hardwood floor. What is that by the way, maple? Or white oak maybe – or –”
“Yes, you can pick up your cigar and your goddam hat,” said Laughing Lou.
Horace turned around and went back a few steps and picked up his cigar, then he went a few more steps to the right and picked up his hat. He put the cigar in his mouth, then brushed off his hat with his hand and put it on.
“Thanks, Lou,” he said. “I feel kind of naked without my hat. Y’know where I got this hat? It was in Kansas City –”
“Shut up,” said Laughing Lou.
“Sorry,” said Horace.
“Now come over here, slow and easy like –”
“Ha!” said Ferdinand.
“Slow and easy like,” repeated Laughing Lou, “and pick up my derby and hand it to me.”
“Sure,” said Horace.
He did as Laughing Lou asked, moving slow and easy like, and he brushed off the derby and then held it out at arm’s length to Laughing Lou.
“Really nice derby, Lou. May I ask where you –”
“Shut up,” said Laughing Lou. He took the derby and put it on his head. “Now pick up that chair I was sitting in.”
“Certainly,” said Horace.
“Put it back where it was at the table.”
“Of course,” said Horace.
He picked up the chair and set it down near the table.
“Now go back to your chair,” said Laughing Lou.
Horace quickly went back and stood behind his chair.
“If you like I can clean up some of this mess,” said Horace. “The broken glass and all. Do you have a broom and dustpan?”
“What a pussy,” said Ferdinand, who was now lazily floating in figure-eights above our heads.
“Excuse me,” said Horace, “but I don’t think it’s being a pussy to offer just to –”
“Pussy,” said Ferdinand.
“Really, Ferdinand,” said Horace, “I think –”
“Will you just shut the fuck up?” said Laughing Lou.
“Who, me?” said Horace.
“Yes, you,” said Laughing Lou. “Sit down.”
“Sit down?” said Horace.
“Yes!” said Laughing Lou. “Sit down and shut the fuck up.”
“Sure, Lou,” said Horace, and he quickly sat down. “Gladly, anything you say, and now maybe we can all just –”
“What did I just say?” said Laughing Lou.
“For me to sit down?” said Horace.
“To shut up?”
“I’m so sorry, I guess I’m just a little, heh heh, nervous –
Laughing Lou pointed the gun at Horace, and Horace abruptly shut up, biting his lips.
Laughing Lou swung the gun around to me again again.
“You,” he said to me. “Tough guy. Sit down. In that chair you somehow didn’t willfully destroy.”
He gestured with the short barrel of the pistol to the previously unoccupied chair, which hadn’t gotten knocked over.
“I’d prefer to stand,” I said.
“I don’t give a damn what you prefer, my butch poet friend,” he said. “Now sit your narrow ass down before I put one in your kneecap.”
Sure enough, he pointed the pistol in the direction of my right knee. I wondered if he would really shoot me in the knee. I wondered if, having been shot in the knee in this world, and if I ever made it back to what I still like to think of as “my world”, would I be crippled there also?
“Arnie,” said Horace “please, don’t cause any more trouble –”
“Boy, what a sniveling coward you are, Horace,” said Ferdinand.
“I freely admit to being a coward,” said Horace. “I embrace my cowardice. I look on cowardice in fact as one of my cardinal virtues, enabling me as it does to continue to live, to drink, to eat, and – yes – on occasion, when I have the price of a throw, to get my ashes hauled –”
“Excuse me,” said Laughing Lou. “Did I or did I not tell you to clam up?”
“That you did,” said Horace, “that you did, and henceforth I shall –”
Suddenly there was a loud rapping, as of someone rapping at a door with a ringed knuckle.
“Lou!” came a woman’s voice, muffled but loud. “Open up, goddammit! What the hell’s going on in there?”
“Oh, shit,” said Laughing Lou. He looked at me. “There, you happy now?”
I had nothing to say to this.
Lou sidled his great body past me, keeping the gun on me.
“Don’t you move, Arnold,” he said. “Or I swear I’ll drill you.”
“Swears he’ll drill you,” said Ferdinand. “Who writes this guy’s dialogue?”
“You just shut up, too,” said Laughing Lou.
I turned to watch him backing up to the door we had come in through.
“Don’t nobody move,” he said.
“Brilliant,” said Ferdinand. “Just brilliant. ‘Don’t nobody move.’ What scintillating like repartee.”
“Lou!” yelled the woman’s voice, and the rapping sounded on the door again. “What the hell’s going on in there?”
“One moment, Lily,” called Laughing Lou, and in a lower voice he said, looking at me. “Thanks, pal. Thanks for nothing.”
“Lou!” yelled the woman’s voice again, and again the rapping sounded. “Open up before I get the boys to break this door down!”
“I’m coming, Lily!” called Lou.
He was at the door now. Keeping his back to the door and his gun on me, he turned slightly and with his left hand he shot the barrel bolt, then turned the switch on the deadbolt, and finally unfastened the security chain. He turned the door knob, and stepped away from the door, still keeping his gun pointed at me.
Standing outside the door was the woman in the black sparkly dress who had been singing and playing the piano, singing about me. She was holding a lit cigarette. She took a drag on the cigarette, looking at Laughing Lou, then at me, and at Horace.
She exhaled smoke, and then entered the room. She was carrying a black sparkly purse that matched her dress.
Lou closed the door behind her.
“What the fuck is going on here?” she said. “And what the fuck was that awful noise I heard? Sounded like an elephant crashing to the earth after being dumped from an aeroplane. Totally fucked up the song I was playing.”
“I can explain,” said Laughing Lou.
“And why are you waving that pea-shooter around?” she said.
“It’s all his fault,” said Laughing Lou, and he waved the gun in my direction. “He was trying to get tough with me. With me! Laughing Lou Abernathy! Ha ha! Who does this punk think he is?”
“And what is that crappy music on the Hi-Fi?” she said.
I hadn’t realized it until then, but the record album Laughing Lou had put on had been playing all along, like background music in a movie.
“It’s Mantovani,” said Laughing Lou.
“It stinks,” said the woman.
“I can put on something else if you like,” said Laughing Lou. “Some cool jazz, ha ha?”
“Give me that rod,” said the woman.
“The rod?” said Laughing Lou.
“The rod, the gat, whatever you assholes call it. The gun.”
“But I tell you, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, and he pointed the lit end of his cigar at me. “This punk is trouble! He thinks he’s a tough guy! Tough! Huh!”
“The rod,” said Lily, and she held out her right hand.
“Okay,” said Laughing Lou, and he placed the revolver in her hand. The gun suddenly seemed twice as big now that she was holding it. “Take the gun, Lily! I don’t need a gun to handle a two-bit four-flusher like him! I’ll just give him one of these.” He held up his right hand, making it into a fist. “And then if I have to I’ll give him one of these, too.” Now he held up his left fist. “I call this one ‘dyna’,” he said, glancing at his right fist. “Ha ha! And this one,” he glanced at his left fist, “I call ‘mite’. Put ‘em together, and you know what you got? Ha ha! Know what you get?”
Suddenly the woman whipped the gun into the fat fellow’s jaw.
“Dynamite,” she said.
(Continued here, and onward unrelentingly until that last marble copybook has been transcribed.)
(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find an ostensibly up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. This project made possible in part through a generous endowment from Bob’s Bowery Bar©, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Allow me to recommend Bob’s Bowery Bar’s justifiably famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock – and tell the bartender Horace sent you!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of the bestselling Diary of an Illiterate.)