Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on this hot wet night in old Greenwich Village, where he has at long last met up again with his deific friend “Josh”...
(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you’re totally at a loss as to how to fill up your precious time then go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 68-volume epic.)
“Among many other things, Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre is a story of the narrator’s many and varied friendships – such as: a lusty and adventurous seaman (“Big Ben Blagwell”), a prolific author of drugstore paperbacks (“Horace P. Sternwall”), a talking fly (“Ferdinand”), and, yes, even the savior of the human race (“Josh”).” – Harold Bloom, in the Vatican Monthly Literary Supplement.
“Oh, and hello, little guy!” said Josh, smiling, to Ferdinand, who was hovering to one side of my head.
“Hiya, Josh,” said Ferdinand. “Been havin’ a good time?”
“Yes, actually! Oh, and I don’t think we’ve met,” said Josh, to Horace, and I realized just then that Josh was slurring his words slightly.
“Horace P. Sternwall, sir,” said Horace. “And it is indeed my pleasure to meet you.”
He held out his hand in a hopeful way.
“Don’t shake his hand, sir,” said Mr. Philpot, to Josh. “He owes me money.”
“He does?” said Josh.
“Yes,” said Mr. Philpot, “One hundred and fifty dollars!”
“Listen, sir –” said Horace, addressing Josh, “or should I call you, like, ‘dear lord’, or –”
“Just call me Josh!” said Josh, and, yes, he was drunk – or drunker I should say – than when I had last seen him. “I’m going by simply 'Josh' these days.”
“A fine name it is, too,” said Horace. “A strong, manly, dare I say heroic name –”
“Ass kisser,” said Mr. Philpot, who I now realized, was not just being belligerent, but belligerently drunk, or drunkenly belligerent, take your pick.
Just then my old friend Big Ben Blagwell appeared inside the doorway next to Josh, I suppose he had gotten bored sitting alone. He loomed above Josh just as Josh loomed over Mr. Philpot. He had a cigarette in the thick scarred fingers of one of those enormous hands of his, the only kind of hands he had of course, and a jelly-glass in the other one, half full of what must have been the rum we had been drinking earlier. Framed in the doorway like that the three of them looked like a cover of a cheap paperback novel of the sort that Horace wrote, and as soon as Ben saw me he bellowed, even louder than he normally bellowed, which was after all his normal way of speaking:
“Arnie baby! Where the fuck you been!”
So, yes, he was a lot drunker too, which didn’t surprise me at all. He also was dressed as he was when last I saw him: the sweat-stained yachting cap, the Hawaiian shirt, the dungarees.
“Well, Ben,” I said, “as I was just saying to Josh –”
“Long story,” said Ferdinand, making a little up-and-down circle in the air, “like it always is with Arnie.”
“And Ferdy!” roared Ben. “How’s it hangin’, little buddy?”
“Good, Ben,” said Ferdinand, “good. Wouldn’t mind some of that hundred-year-old cask-aged Royal Navy rum, though – provided there’s any left that is, ha ha.”
“Ah, same old Ferdy,” yelled Ben. “You’ll never change!”
“Not as long as I got a hole in my ass,” said Ferdinand.
“Hi,” said Ben, to Horace.
“Hello,” said Horace.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Ben, this is my, uh, friend Horace. Horace – my, uh, friend Ben.” (As soon as I said this I remembered that, as real as Ben seemed right then, more than real actually, nevertheless he was a character from at least one of Horace’s novels, and so I decided not to mention their full names, just because it seemed too weird to do so.)
Ben transferred his jelly glass from his right hand to his left, and shoved out his right one in Horace’s direction.
“Any pal of Arnie’s,” he said, bellowed of course, but I’m getting tired of writing that all the time.
“Don’t shake his hand!” yelled Mr. Philpot, and, putting his pipe between his teeth, or dentures I should say, he grabbed Ben’s great bare tattooed and sunbaked arm with both of his tiny little hands. Ben lifted up his arm and gave it a little shake, but Mr. Philpot held on, even though his feet now dangled several inches off the floor.
“What the fuck, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben.
“He owes me money!” yelped Mr. Philpot. “Do not shake his hand!”
“But he’s Arnie’s friend,” said Ben, raising his arm, and Mr. Philpot, higher.
“I don’t give a tinker’s dam!” yelled Mr. Philpot through his false teeth, his fat little legs kicking in the air like a baby’s. “He owes me one hundred and fifty dollars, U.S. currency!”
“Okay,” said Josh. “Ben, let Mr. Philpot down.”
“You sure, buddy?” said Ben. “He’s acting awful weird.”
“Let him down, please, Ben,” said Josh.
Ben lowered his arm, and once again Mr. Philpot’s feet met with the floor.
Mr. Philpot took his hands away from Ben’s arm, and taking his pipe from his mouth he addressed Josh.
“I am sorry, your excellency,” he said. “But surely you remember the what was it, the seventh commandment?”
“Is that the adultery one?” said Josh.
“No!” said Mr. Philpot. “’Thou shalt not steal’!”
“Oh,” said Josh. “That one.”
“Yes, that one!” yelled Mr. Philpot. “And this cheap scribbler stole from me!”
“I didn’t steal from you, Mr. Philpot,” said Horace, “strictly speaking.”
“You owe me money!” yelled Mr. Philpot. “And by my lights a man who owes me money and welches is a thief! No better than a common brigand or highwayman, or one of Monk Eastman’s hooligans!”
“Okay, you know what?” said Horace. “In perfectly good faith I offered you half of that hundred and fifty, but if you’re gonna be such an asshole about it, guess what, you can just sue me for the whole hundred and fifty!”
“I’ll sue you, hack!” said Mr. Philpot, “I’ll sue you with this!” And once again he started to slip his hand inside his suit coat for the pistol or knife or ice pick or whatever it was he had in there.
“Wait!” I said, and I reached out and grabbed his arm. It was like grabbing a child’s arm, fat, small, and weak, and the sensation was far from pleasant. “Josh,” I said. “I hate to ask you this, but can you lend me some money?”
“Sure, Arnie,” he said. He took out his wallet, it was a really nice-looking dark-leather one, but I guess that was to be expected. “What do you need?”
“It’s not for me, exactly,” I said, “but I’ll pay you back. Would you give Mr. Philpot a hundred and fifty, to cover Horace’s debt?”
“Oh, sure,” he said. “Why didn’t I think of that?” He took out two hundred-dollar bills and proffered them to Mr. Philpot. “Go ahead, take it, Mr. Philpot. They’re real.”
“Well, only if you insist, sir,” said Mr. Philpot.
“I do,” said Josh.
It seemed safe now, so I let go of Mr. Philpot’s little arm, and he took the bills.
“Let me give you the change, sir,” he said.
“Keep the change,” said Josh.
“But it’s fifty dollars,” said Mr. Philpot.
“Buy yourself something nice,” said Josh.
“You are very generous, your excellency,” said Mr. Philpot, and folding up the bills so that they were nearly as small as a postage stamp, he put them into his vest pocket.
“Well, now that we got that out of the way,” said Ben, “how about if we get back to drinking?”
“I could go for a drink,” said Horace.
“Me too,” said Ferdinand.
“And I believe there was talk of hundred-year-old Royal Navy rum?” said Horace, with a tentative smile.
Ben held up his jelly glass of murky liquid.
“That’s right,” he said. “Not bad, either!”
“What do you say, Mr. Philpot?” said Horace. “You going to invite us in, or you gonna leave us standing out here like some poor relations?”
“Well,” said Mr. Philpot, and he turned at me, “Mister – what name are you going by again?”
“Schnabel, I guess,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”
Mr. Philpot addressed Horace again:
“Mr. Schnaffler is welcome of course, as is our friend the fly, Theodore –”
“Ferdinand,” said Ferdinand.
“They are welcome," went on Mr. Philpot, "but as for you, Mister Sternwall –”
“Hey, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben, “look – I don’t know Horace here, and I don’t know or really care what kind of problem you had with him, but what I do know is that he seems to be pals with Arnie –”
“Indeed I am,” said Horace. “Very good pals, right Arnold?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
“There you fuckin’ go,” said Ben. “And any pal of Arnie’s is a pal of mine. So, dig, pops, I know it’s your rum and all, but still –”
“Well,” said Mr. Philpot, ”I suppose it’s all right for him to come in then, especially considering Mr. Schnitzler’s special friendship with our dear lord here –”
“Josh,” said Josh. “And, look, Mr. Philpot, you know what?" He had put his wallet away, but now he took it out again, and, putting his cigarette in his mouth, he opened it up, and took out some bills. “Here, take this, just because, you know, we’ve been drinking your rum and all –”
Mr. Philpot didn’t hesitate to take the money and quickly count it. I think it was a thousand dollars, all in hundreds. I wondered if Josh had simply made them appear, miraculously, like loaves and fishes. Did that make them counterfeit? Yes or no, Mr. Philpot folded them up into a tight little wad and stuck them in his vest pocket.
“Well, then,” he said, his ancient face suffused with the glow of satisfied greed, “shall we step inside, gentlemen?”
“Now you’re talking, pops!” said Ben. “Come on in, buddy,” he said to Horace, extending that great hand of his again. “What was your name again?”
“Horace,” said Horace, taking Ben’s hand. “Horace P. Sternwall.”
“Wow," said Ben, "not the Horace P. Sternwall? The writer fella? The guy who wrote Return to Rangoon? Cast Loose the Mainsail, Lads!? Female Slave Ship? Weekend in Shanghai?”
“That’s me, heh heh,” said Horace. You could tell that Ben was squeezing Horace’s writerly uncallused hand too hard by the tight-lipped grimace Horace made.
“I love your stuff, man!” said Ben, giving Horace’s hand another good shake. “You write like a motherfucker, and I don’t care what anybody says!”
“Well, thank you, sir,” said Horace, and finally Ben freed his hand.
“You know why I like your books, Horace?”
“Because of the way I plumb the depths of the human soul?” said Horace with a small smile, massaging his swollen right hand with his left.
“No, fuck that homo shit,” said Ben. “What I like about your books is they have a lot of action, y’know?”
“Oh, action is essential,” said Horace.
“Nobody likes a book where nothing happens and people just stand around talking about nothing,” said Ben, perhaps referring to the one the reader is now reading.
“All right, enough jabbering,” said Ferdinand. “Let’s hit that rum!”
“Okay, little buddy,” said Ben. “Keep your wings on.”
And suddenly, as one, Ben and Horace, Mr. Philpot and Ferdinand headed inside to that keg of rum, and I was starting to follow them when Josh touched my arm and leaned close to me.
“Arnie, a word.”
“Sure, Josh,” I said.
He turned and leaned into the room, putting his hand on the door knob.
“You fellows go ahead! I just want to have a brief chat with Arnold here!”
“Better hurry up, Josh,” yelled Ben, “before we finish the damn keg!”
This modest bon mot produced what seemed an immoderate ripple of laughter from within, in which even the ancient piping tittering of Mr. Philpot could be distinguished.
Smiling, Josh closed the door, and then turned to me, his smile gone. He took a drag on his cigarette before speaking.
“I need to talk to you, Arnold,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
He was looking at me very intently, the way drunk people do.
“I need your help,” he said.
He needed my help.
And here I was hoping he might be able to help me after all.
But what could I say?
“Sure, Josh,” I said, to the son of God himself. “What can I do for you?”
(Continued here, as we start a whole new volume of Arnold’s adventures!)
(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a rigorously complete listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual “May Procession Ball”, to be held at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence, in the scenic Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, musical entertainment to be provided by Gabriel and his Swingin’ Seraphim, with special guest “Magda” on vocals and Hammond B-3 organ. Tickets $10, which price includes unlimited access to Wiener ‘n’ Kraut Smorgasbord and open bar; all proceeds in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Rehabilitation Project. )