We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel on a rainy night in August of 1957, sitting in a booth in Bob’s Bowery Bar with his companions Josh (the sometime son of God), Mr. Philpot (that preternatural bookseller), Horace P. Sternwall (the sadly unheralded author), Ferdinand (the talking fly), and Big Ben Blagwell (that nautical adventurer) who had just begun to read aloud the opening sentences of Horace’s novel of despair and terror, The Ace of Death…
(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; anyone looking for a cracking good long read over the summer months may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 64-volume memoir.)
“Even the most casual reader of Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre must inevitably wonder: ‘Is all this meant to be real?’ To which question I must reply, just as inevitably: ‘Yes, it is not only meant to be real, but it is real, as real as the life we live and as real as the dreams we dream.’” – Harold Bloom, in The Psychology Today Literary Supplement.
“Asshole,” said the Bear.
“Two bit punk asshole,” said the Rat.
“Two bit punk asshole of a welsher,” said the Toad, “and you know what we do to two-bit punk asshole welshers?”
“Give them one last chance?” I suggested.
“Very funny,” said the Rat.
“Funny like a jitterbug contest in a polio ward,” said the Bear.
It was happening again. All I wanted to do was to get back to my own world, my own body, my own life, and here I was in what looked like some dark alleyway with three menacing goons.
The one called the Toad was short and fat, and he had a knife in his hand and a cloth cap on his head.
The guy called Rat really did look like a Rat, thin and sharp faced, with a thin moustache and a grey fedora. He had a leather sap in one hand, and he was stroking it with the long bony fingers of his other hand.
The Bear, not surprisingly, was a big tall beefy guy, and he didn’t have a weapon in his hands, but then I guess he didn’t especially need one. He was punching his right fist into the palm of his left hand, slowly, like one punch every two seconds. His fist was as big as a softball, except it didn’t look soft. He wasn’t wearing a hat, and he had a buzz cut.
The Toad stuck the tip of his knife up against the underside of my chin.
“I could make it real quick,” he said. “One quick shove, up into your brainpan. How would you like that?”
“Is it a choice between slow and quick?” I said.
“Comedian,” said the Toad, and he pressed the knife into the flesh right above my Adam’s apple. It hurt, and I felt blood trickling down the front of my neck.
“Ow,” I said, and my head flinched backwards, and hit what felt like a brick wall.
“Funny man,” said the Rat, and he swung the sap and hit me on the elbow with it, and that really hurt.
“Ow,” I said again.
“How’s this for a joke,” said the Bear. “I smack you in the jaw with my fist and break it. Ha ha.”
He raised his fist.
“Oh, shit,” I said. “Hey, wait a minute.”
“I’ll wait one second,” said the Bear. “Then I break your jaw.”
“I take it I owe you fellows some money,” I said.
“It ain’t us you owe it to,” said the Toad.
“Yeah, it ain’t us,” said the Rat.
“Not us,” said the Bear.
“Um,” I said, “just to refresh my memory, uh, who is it again that I owe the money to?”
“What’re you, nuts?” said the Toad.
“Possibly,” I said. “You see, I seem to have been transported into some unknown fictional universe, and I really have no idea what’s going on.”
“He’s nuts,” said the Bear.
“Crazy,” said the Rat.
“I think I’ll just stick him,” said the Toad.
“Wait,” I said. “If I may just say something before you stick me. If you’ll just tell me who it is I owe money to, and how much, then I promise I’ll do everything possible to, to acquire the money, and –”
“He really is nuts,” said the Bear.
“Maybe he’s just pretending,” said the Rat.
“You pretending to be nuts?” said the Toad, and he held the tip of his knife to my throat again.
“No,” I said.
“You would say that, wouldn’t you?” said the Toad.
“But it’s true,” I said.
“He would say that, too,” said the Rat, and he raised his blackjack in a threatening way.
“Honest,” I said. “I’m not pretending to be nuts.”
“So you’re saying you are nuts,” said the Bear.
“Maybe,” I said. “But the fact is I have no idea who it is I owe money to or how much money I owe.”
“You’re saying what –” said the Toad, and he lowered his knife, but only in a tentative way – "you got amnesia?"
“No,” I said. “Amnesia means you’ve forgotten everything. But I never knew anything in the first place, which is what I’ve been trying to tell you, uh, gentlemen.”
“You’re saying you don’t know nothing,” said the Rat.
“Yes,” I said. “I mean no. I mean I don’t know anything and I never did know anything.”
“Maybe you did know and you forgot you knew,” said the Bear. “You ever think of that?”
“No,” I said.
“Maybe you ought to think about it,” said the Bear.
“Classic amnesia case,” said the Rat. “He don’t even remember that he don’t remember nothing.”
“Unless he’s faking it,” said the Toad. “You faking it, pisher?”
“No,” I said.
“So you say,” said the Toad.
“Yeah,” said the Rat. “What if you’re lying between them pearly white teeth?”
“Maybe if I knock them pearly white teeth out of his head he’ll tell us if he’s lying,” said the Bear.
“I’ll tell you now,” I said. “I’m not lying. Please, look, why don’t you take me to your, uh, employer and maybe I can straighten this whole thing out with him.”
“With her,” said the Toad.
“With her?” I said.
“Yeah, with her,” said the Rat.
“Like he don’t know,” said the Bear.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Him, her, whoever.”
“Shit,” said the Toad.
“Weird,” said the Rat.
“I say he’s lying,” said the Bear. “Let’s show him what we do to lying two bit asshole welshers.”
He raised his great fist again.
“But wait,” I said. “Doesn’t your employer want a chance to get his or her money back?”
“You saying you got the money, goniff?” said the Toad.
“I have no idea,” I said. “But if you just give me a chance –”
“He ain’t got no ten grand,” said the Rat.
“Ten grand?” I said. “That much?”
“You know damn well how much, welsher,” said the Toad.
“I honestly didn’t know,” I said. “Ten thousand, huh?”
“Ten Gs,” said the Toad. “Why? You got that much?”
“I honestly don’t know,” I said.
“Funny man again,” said the Toad. “A regular Phil Silvers.”
“I say we fix him so he never tells another joke again,” said the Rat.
“He wasn’t that funny anyway,” said the Bear. “Let’s tear him apart and dance the black bottom all over the pieces.”
“Listen,” I said. “All I can say is there’s been some terrible mistake, and I have no idea what you guys are talking about and how I’m supposed to owe you –”
“Not us,” said the Toad. “Fat Flo.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Fat who?”
“Fat Flo,” said the Toad.
“Fat Flo?” I said.
“You heard the man,” said the Rat.
“So,” I said, “this ‘Fat Flo’ is the, uh, lady I owe the ten thousand to?”
“Like you don’t know,” said the Bear.
“But,” – one thing this universe had in common with the last universe I had been in, it was very hot and humid, and I was dripping with sweat – “but, wait," I said, "I’m telling you guys I know nothing about any of this, who Fat Flo is, the ten thousand, why I owe it to her –”
“You know why, welsher,” said the Bear.
“No,” I said. “I have no idea. Why, how, why –”
“You bet on the ace,” said the Toad.
“I what?” I said.
“The ace,” said the Rat.
“The ace,” I said.
“You shouldn’t’ve bet on the ace,” said the Bear.
“Shoulda bet on the deuce,” said the Toad.
“Okay,” I said, “I still have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even play cards.”
“I’m gonna enjoy this,” said the Bear, and he punched his fist into his palm again. “I am really gonna enjoy it.”
“Me too,” said the Toad, and he made a circular motion with his knife.
“This is gonna be fun,” said the Rat, and he raised his sap.
“Okay, hold on, guys,” I said. “If you kill me you won’t ever get the ten grand, right?”
“Yeah,” said the Toad, “and if we don’t kill you we still don’t get the ten grand. So we might as well kill you and at least get that satisfaction.”
“Okay,” I said. “Look, I’ll give you the ten Gs, ten grand, the ten thousand. Dollars.”
“You mean you got the ten Gs?” said the Toad.
“Yes,” I said, although I knew no such thing. “Now that I think about it I think I’ve got at least that much on me, yes.”
“What the hell,” said the Rat.
“Yeah, what the hell,” said the Bear.
“Why didn’t you just give us the ten Gs in the first place if you got it,” said the Toad.
“Well, you know how it is,” I said. “Heh heh.”
“I know how it is when you’re a two-bit punk welshing asshole,” said the Toad.
“Ha ha, right,” I said. “So, look, how about if I just give you the ten Gs, and, you know, no hard feelings.”
“What an asshole,” said the Toad.
“Complete asshole,” said the Rat.
“Total asshole,” said the Bear.
“Here, let me get it out for you,” I said.
I put my hand in my jacket pocket, hoping for the best. Luckily for me that snubnose revolver that that woman Lily had given to me several universes ago was still in there and I brought it out and stuck it in the Toad’s face since he was the one closest to me.
“Shit,” said the Toad.
“Fucking hell,” said the Rat.
“Asshole!” said the Bear.
(Continued here, as our editorial team transcribes yet another few pages of Arnold’s holograph, with only the most egregious misspellings and chirographical errors silently corrected.)
(Illustration by Kirk Wilson. Please look down the right hand column of this website to find a purportedly current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Click here to order our esteemed colleague rhoda penmarq’s new glossy paperback edition of lover, and other poems by horace p sternwall – “good old-fashioned poems, the kind they don't write any more”!)